Alabama author Fannie Flagg catches up with beloved ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ characters in new novel

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(Courtesy Andrew Southam)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Years ago, Fannie Flagg said goodbye to “Whistle Stop,” the fictional Alabama town best known as the setting for her 1987 novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café”…or so she thought.

In fact, if you had asked not long ago, the Birmingham-born author probably would’ve said she was done writing novels as well.

Stand-up comedienne and actress Fannie Flagg is shown at the Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Ca., on May 30, 1992. Flagg is nominated for her screenwriting debut of her 1987 book “Fried Green Tomatoes.” (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

“If you hear that I’m writing another book, you have my permission to get on a plane, come to California and beat me with a stick,” Flagg told Alabama Newscenter in 2016 following the release of “The Whole Town’s Talking.” “I’m tired. If I do anything after this, I’ll do short stories.”

However, as with many things today, COVID-19 changed her outlook. Typically, Flagg returns to Alabama a couple of times a year. So when it became clear during her quarantine in California that a hometown visit would be unlikely this year, she decided that to come back another way.

“I thought ‘I’m locked up and I can’t get back home, so I’ll just write about everything I love about being home,” she said. “I wanted to go to a nicer time.”

At the same time, country singer Reba McEntire was in the middle of developing a TV show based on “Fried Green Tomatoes” and Flagg had an interesting idea: whatever happened to everyone in the book? What happened to beloved characters like “Idgie” Threadgoode, Evelyn Couch, Dot Weems, Sheriff Grady Kilgore or Buddy Jr.?

The result was “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop,” which was released last week, 33 years after the debut of “Fried Green Tomatoes.” As of Friday, the book was No. 5 on The New York Times Bestsellers List.

Flagg said that pre-pandemic, she had never considered a sequel to “Fried Green Tomatoes.” However, she couldn’t stop thinking about the characters again.

“I just wanted to revisit and see what happened to those people, how they fared in the world, and how they dealt with keeping in touch with each other,” she said.

The same way “Fried Green Tomatoes” covered a time in the South that had long passed, “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop” finds the eponymous town hardly resembling the one portrayed in “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

“By now, the old two-lane highway from Birmingham to Whistle Stop had been bypassed by a new six-lane interstate, and most of the area was now just a dumping ground,” the now-grown Buddy Jr. said on returning to his hometown. “Old rusty cars and trucks had been abandoned by the tracks, left to slowly fall apart.”

The Irondale Cafe, home to the original Whistle Stop Cafe, which served as the basis of Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.”

Flagg said it makes her sad to think of the small communities across the country that lost their way over the years.

“All over this country, we lost so many little communities, because all of a sudden, they have a huge shopping mall and these small stores couldn’t compete, and Main Street would be lost and we would lose these little towns,” she lamented.

In a time when many people and small businesses are struggling, Flagg said she remains optimistic about more people forming close-knit communities again.

Stand-up comedienne Fannie Flagg is shown in May 1969. (AP Photo)

“So many people are moving out of the big cities and are trying to get, in some sense, closer to the land and trying to find another community to feel like they are a part of,” she said. “There’s always some good that comes out of the worst things, and I think COVID will make people start new communities and realize how great little people are.”

In many ways, Flagg’s new book is about finding a way back home.

“We all want to come back somehow to our community, and we want to get back to that time where we all got along in that little town,” she said. “It won’t be the same, but it will continue to be a community.”   


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