Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
I debated for a while about whether or not to put this book on the American Spinster review list. There are no genuine spinsters in the story, unless you count Sipsey (who had an adopted son), but ultimately I couldn’t ignore how well the book’s message applies to us.
There are two storylines running throughout the book. In present day (1985), Evelyn Couch is a woman who’s essentially going through a mid-life crisis. She feels out of place no matter where she goes or what she tries to do with her empty nest life. She missed the Women’s Lib movement (“I didn’t know you didn’t have to get married. I thought you had to,”). She’s unable to connect with her grown children, and she resents her husband, yet doesn’t want a divorce. She’s a woman who, as she puts it, has never seen her own vagina.
Depressed, lost, and inwardly angry, Evelyn encounters an elderly woman named Mrs. Threadgoode, who begins to tell Evelyn stories about her life in Whistle Stop decades ago, when the town was in its prime. Mrs. Threadgoode’s sister Idgie and Idgie’s partner Ruth are the center of her engaging, colorful stories, which make up the strategically interwoven second storyline. Evelyn begins to live for the Sundays when she gets to visit Mrs. Threadgoode – who’s become a loving, maternal friend to her – and to hear more stories from Whistle Stop.
Thanks to Mrs. Threadgoode’s friendship, down-to-earth advice, and the stories of life in Whistle Stop, Evelyn slowly but beautifully becomes her own woman.
Why It’s A Spinsterly Read
The book is, in many ways, about a woman re-creating herself. Evelyn goes through a pretty dark time, and the novel doesn’t shy away from that. Before meeting Mrs. Threadgoode, Evelyn fantasizes about her own suicide just to make it through the long, lonesome nights. Later, in her difficult and painful moments, she imagines being in Mrs. Threadgoode’s Whistle Stop among the people from her stories. She imagines being a part of the community there, being loved and having – for the first time – a place of her own. By the end of the book, Evelyn confronts the fears that have controlled her throughout her life, and finally learns to be truly happy.
The topics covered in this blog are topics that apply not just to those who are young and childfree, but to mature women who find themselves alone in the house after their children grow up or after a divorce. We all invent ourselves, and re-invent ourselves throughout our lives. Evelyn takes the examples of fearless Idgie, kind-hearted Mrs. Threadgoode, aspects of the silently strong Ruth, and even the contentedly unconcerned Eva Bates to help her to truly live the second part of her life. She decides who she wants to be, and with the help of her friend, becomes that person.
It’s an excellent novel for any woman, be she just starting out or at a crossroads in her life, because it paints a remarkable picture of how to stand on one’s own and, in essence, become the person they were always meant to be.