I’m not really a fan of American fiction, yet I find myself teaching it in my classes. It’s interesting how tradition can sometimes stretch our boundaries. Some of my Gr. 11 students are reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg for their novel study and I felt I needed to read the book in order to engage them in conversation.
I know that it would be an anachronism and complete out of geographical place, but I couldn’t help but think as I was reading that the theme song for this novel should be “All You Need Is Love” by The Bealtles. Love. This was a novel about love.
Smokey Lonesome, a wandering man, loves Ruth the second he sees her wearing a polkadot dress in the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Idgie, a firecracker in Whistle Stop, loves Ruth and throws the world’s most amazing tantrum when Ruth moves back to her parents’ house after a summer of romance.
Sipsey, a black woman who works at the Whistle Stop Cafe, loves Ruth and would do anything (ANYTHING) to keep Ruth safe, even if it means bringing death.
Romance, friendship, passion, loyalty, and protection. Throughout the novel, the various characters demonstrate the power of love and how it transcends the binaries and rules of society.
I will admit that I was surprised to learn that this book was so popular, and taught in school, considering that it delves into concepts of racism, homosexuality, and sexual violence. Yet I suppose that is exactly why it is so popular: the people of Whistle Stop support and love each other, no matter what. For the residents of Whistle Stop Cafe, people are people.
I have to say, as much as American literature is not my favourite, I did enjoy this novel. Fannie Flagg writes some fantastic lines in her novel:
-“You never know what’s in a person’s heart until they’re tested, do you?”
-“Are you a politician or does lying just run in your family?”
-“The ones that hurt the most always say the least.”
-“It’s funny, when you’re a child you think time will never go by, but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you’re on the fast train to Memphis. I guess life just slips up on everybody. It sure did on me.”
-“You know, a heart can be broken, but it still keeps a-beating just the same.”
-“Remember if people talk behind your back, it only means you are two steps ahead.”
-“I wonder how many people don’t get the one they want, but end up with the one they’re supposed to be with.”
For a bunch of teenage girls (or at least the ones in my class), what an inspiring novel! To know that life twists and turns and plans don’t work out is important, yet it is even more important to know that the important things in life aren’t things. I can’t help but think of Michel Franti’s song “I’ll Be Waiting” because one of his lines says “The best things in life aren’t things, they’re living, they’re breathing.”
I am walking away from the novel with a sense that love is love. Restrictions, rules, parameters, and restrictions don’t count when it’s love. Love is love.
That being said, there’s one last song that fits with the novel: “I’m Alive.” “Life sounds like, I’m alive!” Life is a celebration, quiet or noisy, of the love we share and the love we see around us.
“I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.” (Ephesians 4:2)
“I think that people that are not sensitive, who seem to bang through life, do survive, but I don’t think they get the really soaring feelings that people who are more artistically bent can get.” (Fannie Flagg)