Fannie Flagg's story spans almost 60 years from The Great Depression time to the less conservative 1980s, intertwining several narrators and revolving around the little town of Whistle Stop and its Cafe. Evelyn Couch, an unhappy, overweight housewife, who took up eating out of boredom, makes friends with Virginia (Ninny) Threadgoode, a former resident of Whistle Stop, who tells her the story of her life and those close to her. The Threadgoode family, with whom Ninny grew up, was one of the big families living in town and were among those who supported their African-American neighbours and employees. Among their children, Idgie (Imogen) is the wildest and most non-conformist, the young woman who opened a cafe, together with Ruth Jamison. The two of them raised up Ruth's son, Stump, and influenced the lives of those, black and white, living around the cafe. Ninny, Idgie's sister-in-law, is a silent witness to all the unbelievable adventures of the Threadgoode family members and her stories give Evelyn, her younger friend, an insight into herself and the strength to change her life for the better.
Every important, crucial moment in the main characters' lives is given several perspectives, sometimes lifting the mystery veil surrounding the past events, other times, deepening the puzzle. The book is easy to read though, as each new chapter is well-marked in time and has a different narrator, such as Dot Weems, the local editor, who is a spirited, funny lady. Subjects such as racism, disability, homosexuality, economic migration or gender differences are gently touched by the author who is an obvious supporter of feminism and strong, independent female characters. The writer creates an entertaining world, full of remarkable, warm characters, and despite the complexity of mixed times, she portrays the lives of the residents of Whistle Stops in vivid colours.
I loved the layered narratives, the good humour, the kindness of the Threadgoode family, Sipsey's recipes from the back of the book, the feeling of being alive and part of it all, while reading the novel, and the depiction of the friendship between Evelyn and Ninny. The social realities of the 30s, 40s and 80s all catch your attention and throughout the novel, characters like Idgie, Ruth, or Evelyn fight society norms and unwritten rules. Ninny's stories are not only empowering to Evelyn who finds comfort and her true colours, but also to the women reading the novel and identifying with all female characters in Fannie Flagg's book. It is an inspiring book, that gives you a familiar feeling about everything that happens, as if, somehow, Fannie Flagg took a deep look into your heart and wrote about your challenges and joys, in a distinct, poignant, firm, yet tender voice.