Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

by Fannie Flagg

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Critical Overview

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Critical commentary on Fried Green Tomatoes has been enduringly positive. The most typical reactions involve comment on Flagg, the comic television personality, writing serious literature. Critics also deem her portrayal of a lesbian relationship as tactful—in case anyone might fear the novel with its mainstreet cover could be steamy and lewd. There are also comparisons between her work and Garrison Keillor's amusing tales.

"What, Fannie Flagg write a novel? That lady with the gorgeous body and the Southern accent who seemed for a while to live her life only on or in the television set, saying kindly, witty, but certainly not very profound or serious things?" comes the question from Carolyn See, in a review for The Los Angeles Times. See then presents a summary of Flagg's accomplishment, which she views as a deft encapsulation of the American South, the Great Depression and John Steinbeck. Through Flagg's Mrs. Threadgoode, according to See, "this past, this Alabama, is magically spun ….. into vivid myth."

Carolyn Banks, in The Washington Post, describes the novel as "funny and macabre." She emphasizes the psychological plight of Evelyn Couch as, at first, a failure to perform "The Ten Steps of Happiness" and be a "Complete Woman." Banks is also impressed by Flagg's style with "the segues and the juxtapositions [that] … are sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, sometimes sad.

A southerner named Jack Butler, who was prepared to dislike the novel because the title made him "flinch" from "yokel exaggeration," found that this "is a real novel and a good one" with "scores of tossed-off hilarities." In his review for The New York Times, Butler finds the characterizations to be true from the portrayal of blacks to "the unusual love affair between Idgie and Ruth, rendered with exactitude and delicacy, and with just the balance of clarity and reticence that would have made it acceptable in that time and place." However, Butler faults Flagg for a prose style that "is serviceable, often good, but sometimes baggy and careless." The mix of medium and narrative voice, however, "are on key and fetching." Finally, Butler finds that at a time in American culture when there is so much that is "merely trendy experimentalism," he must "admire a writer who can end with a genuinely productive innovation" and a great recipe for fried green tomatoes.

Gayle Kidder focuses on Flagg's anxiety over "saying some things I really believe." Kidder reveals that Flagg took a page out of Eudora Welty "who told [Flagg] you must write what fascinates you. And I think Southern writers, like Jewish writers, have always been fascinated with themselves and their own culture." The portrayal of blacks, like the stereotypical Artis O. Peavey, causes Flagg to be self-conscious and disconcerted. Flagg is ready to defend herself but unlike the reception of Alice Walker she has received nothing but praise from white and black reviewers alike with a, "oh, yes, I knew people like this."

At first, Orlando Ramirez thought Flagg's publishers were being too calculating with their folksy attempt to capitalize on the success of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone Days, which takes advantage of "big-city boulevard brats" who "love to lap up local yokel yarns." Ramirez then finds that his "cynicism evaporated … by this surprising tale of two lesbians and their family and friends." Flagg's novel, according to Ramirez, does succumb to the "'feel-good' syndrome" but, fortunately, not to "Keillor-style irony." There is depth and intellect that is almost ruined by the "pretentiously unpretentious packaging."

Erica Bauermeister, in 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide, asserts that "this gem of a book almost could have been shelved as just another light romantic comedy." Instead, Flagg's novel is a deep story told by several female voices about being a woman. There is a great deal of wisdom here, states Bauermeister: "Fannie Flagg mixes direct and empowering confrontations with racism, sexism, and ageism with the colorful and endearing language of the depression-era South and the café's recipes for grits, collard greens, and, of course, fried green tomatoes."

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