“Evelyn Couch had come to Rose Terrace with her husband, Ed, who was visiting his mother, Big Momma, a recent but reluctant arrival. Evelyn had just escaped them both and had gone into the visitor’s lounge in the back, where she could enjoy her candy bar in peace and quiet. But the moment she sat down, the old woman beside her began to talk….”
Thus starts the weekly conversations that slowly grows into something much deeper, between Evelyn and Mrs. Cleo Threadgoode, the eighty six year old resident of the nursing home. Evelyn is at a bewildered stage in her life, where she has clearly played all the rules set for her by her mother and then later by her husband and possibly her children as well. She is now confused as to where the rewards are, forget about the world around her, she cannot understand even her immediate family. And then she meets this grand old dame who seem to have had such a good time in her life. Mrs, Threadgoode takes her and the readers to a time when life was far less complicated , to the small town of Whistle Stop, Alabama,”where the Whistle Stop Cafe provides good barbecue, good coffee, love and even an occasional murder.”
Though irritated at her privacy being violated, Evelyn soon comes to look forward to the weekly visits,she cannot wait to say a perfunctory hello to her mother in law before she goes in search for her new found friend and the charming people of Whistle Stop. The story is essentially that of Idgie, a female version of Huckleberry Finn, I would say. She is Mrs. Threadgoode’s sister-in-law, universally loved by everyone in spite of her totally unconventional nature. A girl to behave like a boy and be involved in all things unthinkable in those days, still being accepted for what she is, must have been amazing . The people are simple and good at heart, always ready to lend a helping hand, taking in the blacks and outcasts as one of their own and treating them like they would treat one of their own.
The story is also about Idgie’s relationship with the beautiful Ruth. There is as an obvious lesbian nature to it, but it is told in so a subtle a manner, you hardly notice it. Idgie’s wild adventures and defiant attitude fails to hide the essentially good soul that she is, inside. What caught me the most is the matter of fact acceptance of the relationship by all around them. There are various other characters and plots and sub plots, I will leave those for you to read for yourself.
The narrative style was a little confusing at first. The book starts with a weekly news bulletin from 1929, ‘The Weems Weekly’, announcing the opening of The Whistle Stop Cafe , then hops on to Rose Terrace where Evelyn meets Mrs. Threadgoode in 1985. You start getting used to it after a few pages and then it gets interesting as the story progresses. You travel in time, up and down, along with the characters and their lives. Some of the excerpts from the bulletin are quiet hilarious , specially the messages that the editor leaves for her husband in each issue.
As Evelyn eagerly listens to the tales, we can see the changes in her, confusing to herself at first, turning a ittle turbulent, even fringing on crazy and how she slowly finds her groove. It gives you a warm feeling to see how an almost ninety year old lady guides a woman half her age onto the path of happiness and finding herself. The book also talks about how people change over time, how familiar places start to disappear or disintegrate and how difficult it may be to make sense of all these. It tells us about how love can be found in most unlikeliest of places and people and also how the goodness that you show to others comes back to you at the right moment.
I think the essence of the book is laid out in Mrs. Threadgoode’s words,
“Oh honey, it does no good to hate. It’ll do nothing but turn your heart into a bitter root. People cain’t help being what they are anymore than a skunk can help being a skunk. Don’t you think if they had their choice they would rather be something else?”
A totally sweet and easy going read that makes you smile, laugh, weep and maybe think a little bit too.
Verdict: If you love a feel good tale about simple , strong people set in their homes that exude an old world charm, and if you believe that people are essentially good at heart and what goes around comes around, you will love this.
If you are the practical, no nonsense type, maybe not 🙂