'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe' is my favourite film. On that basis alone I put the book on my 101 Books list. I was on leave last week so spent the entire of Friday reading this book. I felt like it was a story that would benefit from a single sitting. I think that maybe my fondness and familiarity with the film story marred my enjoyment of the book because in the back of my mind I was taking note of the things that had been changed, and preferring the version I already knew.
Where the film is a story of female friendship, focussing quite closely on Idgie and Ruth, the book is much more about the whole community. It has a similar dual storyline, with the back story of the Whistle Stop Cafe, and then the current day relationship between Ninny, who is telling the story, and Evelyn, a middle-aged housewife who is visiting the nursing home and finds herself befriended by this vivacious elderly lady. It follows the lives of the small town of people who live alongside the railroad in rural Alabama, from the 1920s, through the depression and the Second World War and into the 50s and the demise of the town as the trains stop passing through. The Threadgoode family and their neighbours form the backbone to Whistle Stop and Dot Weems write a weekly bulletin that also punctuates the book with snippets about local goings-on. Although there is the threatening presence of the KKK, and the trial of Idgie and Big George over the death of Frank Bennett, the book does not tackle the issue of race or segregation head on and tends to gloss over the tensions that existed at that time. Ruth and Idgie are presented as good people who feed the hobos and treat black people with respect, but the entrenched injustices in their community are not really questioned. The book's aim is to tell a story I guess not to examine the politics. There's nothing very special about it, lots of he said and she said and then they did such and such. The characters themselves are a little two dimensional and its strength lies more in the evolution and changing world of the community. I'm glad I had it on the list because it has satisfied my curiosity about the book. Here is a tiny snippet, a picture of the cafe:
"Ruth tried to fix up the place. She put a picture of a ship sailing in the moonlight, but Idgie came right along behind her and took it down and stuck up a picture she found of a bunch of dogs sitting around a card table, smoking cigars and playing polker. And she wrote underneath it, The Dill Pickle Club. That was the name of this crazy club that she and her friend Grady Kilgore had started. Other than the Christmas decorations they put up the first year that Idgie never did take down, and an old railroad calendar. That was it." (p.65)