Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
I read this book having never seen the movie, nor really knowing what it was going to be about; I picked it up because I'd heard positive things about it. It turns out that the book is about a small Southern town (Whistle Stop) mostly from the 1930's and 40's and the people who live there, particularly the two women who own the Whistle Stop Cafe, Ruth and Idgie. And, yes, they do serve fried green tomatoes there, though it isn't a prominent plot point that they do.
A lot of the fun of the book is its format. About half of the book is in the form of Whistle Stop town newsletters, as well as other new items, bulletins, etc. and the other half is short pieces of narration. The narration covers several decades of Idgie and Ruth's friendship and the history of Whistle Stop, as well as showing a woman (Ninny) who had lived in Whistle Stop telling about her time there to a young woman Evelyn visiting her in a nursing home in the 1980's. The narration is not chronological, but rather follows themes and questions that Evelyn asks Ninny about life back in Whistle Stop.
Evelyn and Ninny's friendship begins when Evelyn is spending time in the nursing home waiting room while her husband visits his mother there. Ninny talks to Evelyn and helps her realize that she is depressed and over-wrought because she is going through menopause and also pushes Evelyn to accept that she can make something out of her life for herself. Evelyn is inspired to push herself to gain personal strength from listening to stories of the strength of the people of Whistle Stop.
The stories about Whistle Stop center around the cafe run by Ruth and Idgie. At the start of the story, we only know that Ruth and Idgie are inseparable and devoted friends. As the book proceeds, we learn about the obstacles that stood in the way of their friendship and the personal suffering that they had to overcome. In fact, the stories of most of the people in Whistle Stop eventually show that they are all trying to get through times characterized by loss, suffering and hate caused by the depression, the wars, the racism of that time, or the general misfortunes of life. Through this, they still are able to show compassion and a joy in life.
This is a very enjoyable book to read. It is optimistic, but without being syrupy or ignoring the realities of life. It paints what feels like a realistic picture of life in a small town. And it also captures the struggles of a woman who finds herself in her 40s living a life that was what she was told she should aspire to, but just isn't making her happy. It's a book about getting through what life hands you, and trying to make the best of it that you can. There are both hilarious and tragic moments in the book, sometimes each coming fast on the heels of the other. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to pretty much anybody as a worthwhile read.
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