Authors can be great for different reasons. Some authors are thrilling and gripping. Others write majestically with grace and beauty. Other authors are great simply because they are, at heart, storytellers, and they can just plain tell a good story.
Fannie Flagg is among one of the greatest storytellers of our time. You are probably most familiar with her work Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, although you may not have realized this was hers. That's a great story that was turned into a great movie. But she has so many other books, and I will warn you, once you start a Fannie Flagg novel, you won't stop till you're done. (Fortunately, they are not as long as, say, Diana Gabaldon's, so you can finish them in a timely manner.)
Flagg's latest novel, The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, does not disappoint. In is, as her other novels are, a great story. It involves the stories of multiple women across generations that are tied together by a tightly kept secret. It twists and turns and keeps the reader on their toes. Every time I think I have a Fannie Flagg story all figured out, she jerks it in an entirely different direction. It's like riding a roller coaster. You just hang on and go with it, having fun along the way.
It is also the telling of a true story, that of the WASP corps, the women Air Force pilots that flew domestic missions during WWII. For decades this all-important piece of American history has been tucked away, kept under wraps by the military until the 1970s. Now we are learning about these courageous women who contributed to the war effort and broke barriers for future women by taking on a job that many thought only belonged to men - flying military airplanes. It's a remarkable part of our heritage, and the story needs to be told. Flagg tells it masterfully in the context of her characters' lives, because one way or another, the WASP corp affected each and every characters' lives.
Characters are one of the best parts of a Flagg novel. She creates people that are so real, you can hear them talk in your head and feel like you're sitting down to have coffee with them yourself. This main character of this novel, Sookie, is someone you just want to hug and reassure that everything's going to be all right. You find yourself deliciously and righteously angry with her mother Leonore, a mother you love to hate and love. Fritzi, a tough WASP veteran who takes life by both hands and does everything her own way, will have you laughing and cheering all the way through, even when you don't agree with the choices she is making. These are marvelous, lovable, flawed, real characters that draw you into their lives and invite you to stay a while.
All of Fannie Flagg's books take place in the South, and the culture of the South that she brings into her works have both charm and stark reality. It is obvious that Flagg loves the South, but she is aware of its faults, and she boldly tells the truth where it needs to be told while also painting a magical background for the telling of her story. The South itself is a character of her books.
This is a lovely book. Check it out for a great summer read. You will not regret it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Still reading Written in My Own Heart's Blood, but here are some links to other Fannie Flagg novels in case you get hooked:
Can't Wait to Get to Heaven
I Still Dream About You
Standing in the Rainbow