Dear Ms Flagg,
I am writing to you because, well, because I think if a person enjoys something or is affected by something that someone else has put a lot of hard work in to creating, then it is nice to have that recognised.
Other than “Little Women”, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” is the book I have read the most over the years. The spine of my copy is now so creased I would even consider replacing it in the future. I would like to point out that most of my books that were new when I got them have kept their spines intact, almost un-creased at all in fact, despite re-reading. However, I have re-read this particular book so often, once a year minimum since I was 13/14, that spine creasing was seemingly inevitable. (I am now 28, for the sake of clarity).
I admit to seeing the film first, which I think might also have been my first ‘gay’ film (as loosely as that definition may be applied to FGT), I was 10/11 or so, and it was the first film I saw where I realised that just maybe there were people in films that might reflect how I felt, people who might not spend the entire hour and a half waiting for some Prince or whatever chap to rescue them, spend their lives together etc.
This film became my ‘guilty’ pleasure. At the age of 10/11 I wasn’t sure if other people saw in it what I saw or whether they simply saw Idgie and Ruth as just ‘friends’ and I was the one projecting my feelings onto it. Regardless, I didn’t actually want to find out as either way had the potential of spoiling that which I enjoyed so immensely.
Given that this was quite a time before the advent of Google and the likes… at least in my house for sure, it was quite some time before I realised that there was a novel version of the film I liked so much… in fact I truly cannot recall as to how I ever found out about it. So, I ordered the book in much anticipation and excitement for if it was even half as enjoyable as I found the film then it was money and expectation well ‘spent’. (I can assure you in advance it most certainly was) I had to wait for two weeks for it to turn up in my local WH Smith… which at the time seemed interminable given my eagerness to read it.
When it finally, or so it seemed, turned up it was swiftly, as was (is) my wont, devoured.
I’m fairly certain that nothing else at the time covered my feelings, though eloquent it certainly wasn’t. For a start I felt that I was proved to be correct in my feelings that there was far more going on between Ruth and Idgie than the film might have lead some to believe, and that it wasn’t all a figment of my head in desperation of seeing something I desired where it might not actually be.
This novel, or rather Ruth and Idgie’s story was, whilst not the first time something I read resonated with me and certainly not the last, the first time a story affected me so specifically. That I found something that finally related to myself with a deeper meaning. Which, is probably, why I have read it so many times.
If I tell you that my normal reading matter ranges through Young Adult, LGBTQ, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Greco-Roman (i.e. Homer, Sophocles) and Crime oeuvres (obviously there are equally many exceptions to this generalisation but they are the genres I repeatedly come back to) it might perhaps illustrate the extent to which this book means to me. Which I am sure many many people have laid claimed to such a statement, or at least their wives have.
Regardless of how many times I read/watch FGT, it has never ceased to be a favourite and I frequently find new things of interest in it whenever I do. I even like the non-linear style of writing, which normally I would probably find somewhat vexing, but works so well in this instance. I particularly like this non-linear, separate storylines approach because then if the mood does so strike me; I can pick up the book and read through any one particular storyline I wish to at the time. Admittedly it is Ruth and Idgie’s storyline that I return to with most frequency, possibly because I am not a middle-aged, straight housewife like Evelyn, so I find less to come back to in her discoveries of self, not that I don’t appreciate and enjoy her characters storyline for it’s own merits.
I find that I am somewhat driven to pass this book on to as many people as I can persuade to read it, young and old alike, though it has always been women rather than men I have recommended it to, though perhaps that is rather unsurprising. I have passed it on to several colleagues (We work for one of the University of Leeds, UK libraries), one of whom then went on to read more of your novels as she could find them, and indeed buying several blind rather than borrowing them from the library first, such was her faith.
There are two main reasons why I try to pass it on:
a) I loved it so; I’d like to give others the potential opportunity to feel the same or similar about it, for Southern North American books such as your own, obviously don’t have the same availability or widespread readership perhaps here in the UK as they more naturally would in the USA. A sad fact for sure.
b) I like that the love between Idgie and Ruth, whilst blatant as to it’s nature, is also reasonably subtle and that FGT isn’t a ‘lesbian novel’ per se, as some authors and publishers specifically release i.e. Bella Books, Naiad Press etc. So I like using it to open other peoples eyes a little by passing on a story that they might well shy away from or indeed simply never come across if they thought they knew what it was about. Such is the prejudice of some and I feel that any little help in the widening of peoples experiences and knowledge in that matter can only be a good thing.
I’ve always found it somewhat strange that everyone I have discussed this book with always fell fell for or loved Idgie’s character, and felt that she was the more interesting of the two women. Now whilst I can understand that from the point of view that Idgie’s character is so unabashedly herself in every sense of the word and is ‘loud’ and blatant and that people are often drawn to the wild child as it is often a desire of that which they would like to be perhaps, personally, I fell completely for Ruth and found her the more fascinating of the two. Granted they all liked Ruth as well, I mean only someone utterly heartless could not do so I feel, but it was really Idgie that they read/watched it for.
I have often thought that Ruth is more the focus of their particular storyline, even if Ninny is purportedly telling tales of Idgie’s youth and wild ways. It’s just that Ruth’s life was so much more subtle and thus perhaps overlooked much like the nature of the lady herself in fact.
In a way I feel that Ruth is rather like Hector in Homer’s Iliad (Bear with me, I can explain this somewhat unconventional way of thinking). In the Iliad everyone always seems to think that Achilles is the hero of the saga, indeed they take Homer’s opening line; “The wrath of Achilles is my theme” to mean as such, when truly it is just that, a tale of one Greek’s vexation. However, I have always thought Hector was the true hero. He wasn’t fighting for the glory or the prizes like much of the Greek forces, he wasn’t even fighting in a war he believed in or wanted to be part of. That man fought simply for his kith and kin, because it was his responsibility to protect Troy with everything he had and thus had so much more to lose in doing so, much how Ruth did if she had chosen to defy her family and societal convention by staying with Idgie from the very beginning. She, like Hector, had to make the harder decisions than anyone else and should be considered far braver because of it. Hector fought, pretty much, because his spoilt little brother Paris seemed capable of only thinking with his penis (sorry, I did try to think of another way of phrasing it, but in truth that is probably the most apt and to the point (no pun intended) way of expressing that particular issue) and took of with another man’s wife.
I often felt that I was Idgie, or rather I indentified with many of her personality traits, (though there were many I did and indeed do not, adhere to, such as the fact that I neither drink nor smoke) amongst which was the fact that I, like Idgie and most of Whistle Stop, Alabama fell for Ruth Jamison. Sweet, beautiful, brace and strong Ruth. For she was so much stronger and braver than Idgie could ever hope to be and had so much more to lose in pursuing both that which she felt she ought to (such as marrying Frank Bennett) and later that which she actually desired for herself, Idgie Threadgoode.
On the one hand, the idea that Ruth (like many undeserving people in the world) had to endure such intense abuse both angers and saddens me (yes, I understand that in this instance these characters are exactly that, characters… fictional). However, I equally realised that without that aspect of her life, she would never have been strong enough to stay where she felt she ought, or later to turn away from convention and societies expectations to be with Idgie. That she would never have had the opportunity to know what a truly strong and brave human being she was.
I could (and indeed have done previously) write extensively about my opinions and responses to this novel but I feel that this is not truly the forum for such obsessions and dissections. Especially as I originally only ever intended to pen a paragraph or two, not create this monster of ‘War and Peace’. That said if you have made it this far through my ramblings, first of I thank your patience and secondly I sincerely applaud your perseverance.
Incidentally and for wholly different reasons I also loved “Can’t wait to get to Heaven”, it had me laughing out loud on many occasions (sadly for my own sense of self preservation, often in public) not least at the name Elna Shimfizzle, she sure seems a fascinating character.
So, in conclusion, I am forever grateful that you decided to write one of my all time favourite novels; FGT and that you continue to write such funny, interesting and engaging fiction.