This is one of my favourite books because it so perfectly conjures up another time and place. Set in America's deep south in a town (surprisingly enough) called Whistle Stop in Alabama, the book jumps between the depression era and the 80's. The story is told via the memory of Ninny Threadgoode as she talks to the depressed Evelyn Couch about her colourful family and friends.
The story mainly focuses on Idgie Threadgoode, her partner Ruth and Ruth's son, who own and run the cafe of the title. Idgie is an unashamed tomboy and after a terrible bereavement in her childhood, loses her joy of life until the pious Ruth Jamieson comes to live with the Threadgoodes for a Summer. It is wonderful to see her falling in love with Ruth and all of the family teasing her as she denies her true feelings. The book is partly a love story about a couple who are accepted without judgement in a time when attitudes were less liberal than now and it is this relationship/ family which forms the emotional heart of the book.
The cafe becomes a haven for people from all walks of life; from tramps to the white professionals of the town, to the disenfranchised black population of Whistle Stop. Set in a segregated America, the race relations add another, more political, layer to what might otherwise have been a more frivolous novel. The Threadgoode family employed a black maid, Sipsey, who ends up cooking at the cafe with her son, Big George and his wife Onzell. We find out as much about their family as we do about the Threadgoodes as the chapters alternate between the two families, and between the past and the present. It is this structure which makes the book so unputdownable, as you sometimes have to wait a few chapters to find out what happens after each cliff hanger Ninny Threadgoode casually mentions.
In the end, we feel as much as Evelyn does, uplifted by spending time at the cafe in Whistle Stop and meeting all of the wonderful people who are getting on with their ordinary lives- though Flagg does give us a murder or two to keep the pages turning. This book will make you laugh, make you cry, but most of all fall in love with the era and people of times past.