The people in Miss Flagg's book are as real as the people in books can be. If you put an ear to the pages, you can almost hear the characters speak. The writer's imaginative skill transforms simple, everyday events into complex happenings that take on universal meanings.
When Cleo Threadgood and Evelyn Couch meet in the visitors lounge of an Alabama nursing home, they find themselves exchanging the sort of confidences that are sometimes only safe to reveal to strangers. At 48, Evelyn is falling apart: none of the middle-class values she grew up with seem to signify in today's world. On the other hand, 86-year-old Cleo is still being nurtured by memories of a lifetime spent in Whistle Stop, a pocket-sized town outside of Birmingham, which flourished in the days of the Great Depression. Most of the town's life centered around its one cafe, whose owners, gentle Ruth and tomboyish Idgie, served up grits (both true and hominy) to anyone who passed by. How their love for each other and just about everyone else survived visits from the sheriff, the Ku Klux Klan, a host of hungry hoboes, a murder and the rigors of the Depression makes lively reading -- the kind that eventually nourishes Evelyn and the reader as well. Though Flagg's characters tend to be sweet as candied yams or mean clear through, she manages to infuse their story with enough tartness to avoid sentimentality. Admirers of the wise child in Flagg's first novel, Coming Attractions, will find her grown-up successor, Idgie, equally appealing. The book's best character, perhaps, is the town of Whistle Stop itself. Too bad the trains don't stop there anymore.
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