Book Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book set in the 1920s Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that passe...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book set in the 1920s

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that passes the Bechdel test, A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads, A book with more than 20 letters in its title, A book published in the 20th century

TW: Racism and racial slurs, abuse, animal death, death, fat phobia, misogyny, fatal illness 

Reviewing the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was one of the most challenging books to review and rate in a while. Fried Green Tomatoes is a classic - both book and film-wise. I picked up the book to finally read it in anticipation of Fannie Flagg's upcoming novel, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop, which returns to the same small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama. I'd seen the Fried Green Tomatoes movie several times, but it's been years since I'd sat down and watched it all in one sitting, so it was nice to not have the movie fresh in my mind when diving into the reading experience. But I did watch the movie right after reading the book, and they are truly two entirely different experiences.

Late 1980s. Evelyn Couch meets old Mrs. Ninny Threadgoode in a nursing home in Birmingham, where Ninny is a resident and Evelyn is tagging along with her husband to visit his mother. During those long visitation days, Evelyn makes nice with Ninny as the older woman shares stories from her past. Evelyn, an empty nester and trying to rediscover herself, is all ears. Ninny's stories rage from the the 1920s and beyond, mostly focusing on the 1920s and 30s, when Ruth Jamison and Idgie Threadgoode opened a small-town diner in an even smaller town, and brought the community together in ways no one may have thought possible. 

First and foremost, Fried Green Tomatoes is a lesbian love story. It's progressive and before its time in terms of sexuality and gender expression. While Idgie is referred to as "she" throughout the book, she dresses very masculine and at one point even participates in an "all-male" theatre production. So reading a love story about two women in the 1920s and 30s, where everyone in a tiny town in Alabama is a wonderfully hopeful book. It's heartwarming and provided this deep sense of contentment and joy.

While the movie is fantastic, a total classic, and boasts an incredible fanbase, it lacks in so many ways compared to the book. I mean, I get it. The movie is already almost two and a half hours and there's only so much you can do with limited time. But the book isn't just about Evelyn and Ninny, or Ruth and Idgie. It's also about the entire Peavy family. There are entire chapters of the book entirely dedicated to the Black family of the story. It's not just Sipsey and her son Big George. It's George's children, too. But with all this comes a lot of problematic racism. Yes, the book is set mostly in the 1920s and 30s in the South, so without the racism would it be realistic? Yet again, it's the 1920s and 30s in the South, and people are so accepting of homosexuality, which doesn't quite fall in line with how the South functioned during those times (or even now). So why can we have acceptance in White, gay love, but not in Black existence? This is where my rating dropped and reviewing becomes difficult.

The book is incredibly well written and made me so happy at times, but then the racism would creep in and ruin it. And it wasn't just blatant KKK and the n-word racism. There was also deeply engrained racism and microaggressions like colorism. Of two of the Peavy children, one is much darker in skin tone and another is much lighter. The darker child is constantly described as being more violent and angry. Then there's the case of Sipsey and George's sole purposes being to serve the white folks. It was heartbreaking for me to see that racism in an otherwise lovely story.

"The ones that hurt the most always say the least." - Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is classic for a reason. It's a feminist love story at its very core, but it also carries some of the not so complimentary traits of many classics, like racism. I would've loved to have seen the progressiveness shown in Ruth and Idgie's case to have covered other areas as well.  I'm hoping to see some changes in the upcoming novel, so keep an eye out for that review. But overall, it was actually a really wonderful story and I can see why it's a classic. And while the movie version is incredible, I would encourage all fans to read the book as well, because there is just so much more to the story.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

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