Drama / Humor
The Whole Town's Talking
Author: Fannie Flagg
Published By: Random House Publishing Group
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The last book I read by Fannie Flagg was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I had already seen the movie and was looking to read the book the movie was based on. I enjoyed the book as much as I did the movie, despite the differences here and there. But somehow, I never got around to reading the rest of Fannie Flagg’s work. Then came The Whole Town's Talking, a book that seemed to have that Fried Green Tomatoes vibe to it. I knew I had to check it out.
It all begins with Lordor Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant who moves to Missouri to start a dairy farm and ends up building a town around it. Those who move there are farmers mostly and the community is tightly wound about each other. While he is busy creating the town, he decides to create a final resting place for its occupants on a beautiful hill with a terrific view and names it Still Meadows.
The book centers around the various family members of the Nordstrom family and their friends and other people who come to live and work in Elmwood Springs over the years. Beginning with the early 1800s, the book spans the centuries, culminating in the year 2020. Over the years, friends and family members come and go, but the town muddles through until that moment when the town finally fizzles out.
But no matter how quiet it may be at Elmwood Springs, things at Still Meadows are anything but. You see, the people who come to rest at Elmwood Springs find new life at Still Meadows. The blind are able to see; the deaf able to hear. People who had been in pain all their lives find themselves at peace. Some lives are cut short too quickly, others are a little longer lived, but no matter what walk of life or what length of time they had on Earth, at Still Meadows, all are welcome and all find a newfound happiness.
With the first pages of this novel, I was instantly hooked. This was the storytelling quality I fell in love with all decades ago with Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Somehow, Fannie Flagg has found a way to make small town characters come to life and make what happens to them important to her reading audience. Once again, she introduces us to a small town, allows us to see it grow and then fizzle out over the years. The townsfolk are not exactly unique, but they are quirky enough to captivate our attention and loveable enough to make us want to know more about them.
But this book isn’t just about a town’s beginning and ending or even the townsfolk themselves. There are some rather important themes in this novel. There’s inspiration in the way the founders of the town believe enough in themselves and their businesses to make something of their lives at a time when everything is new and life in America is a bit scary. There’s a message about faith – not religious faith, but faith in yourself and faith in others. There’s a message about acceptance – accepting others who are different from yourself either in beliefs or in physical nature. There’s a message about caring for all creatures great and small. There’s a message about lost opportunities as well.
As the reader comes across the moment when the first members of the town are interred in Still Meadows and began to chat amongst themselves, the reader finds his/herself thinking about what comes next. Will there be a limbo? Will there be an Elysian Fields? Is there more to life after death? The author seems to make us want to believe in such a thing, so when some of the people interred in the cemetery stop talking, we find ourselves wondering what has happened to them. Could it be that they have moved on? Is there a certain timeframe? Thankfully, the author does not leave us hanging without some sort of explanation at the end.
I loved the stories of the people of Elmwood Springs – not just those of the main characters, but those of the people just passing through our tale. And I loved the conversations had in Still Meadows as well. I also found the little mystery (something else that reminded me of Fried Green Tomatoes) that found its way into this novel. I certainly love how that mystery was solved and the justice served.
Fannie Flagg had me hooked at the first pages of The Whole Town's Talking and I found I couldn’t put the book down. I had to read more…had to know more about what was going on in Elmwood Springs and Still Meadows. I loved how she wrapped things up in the end – no dangling mysteries here, just a well-rounded read with a beginning and an end and loads of fun tales in between. What a great read!