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Book review: Fannie Flagg invites us back to Whistle Stop
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Book review: Fannie Flagg invites us back to Whistle Stop

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The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Fannie Flagg calls her native Alabama “My Heart. My Home.”

Such devotion to her birthplace culminates in the fulfillment of her admirers’ decades-long hopes: a sequel to “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,” the 1987 novel inspired by stories she heard from her mother and her great-aunt.

“The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop”—Flagg’s 10th novel—reacquaints readers with the events and characters of “Fried Green Tomatoes” while adding new ones. Like its predecessor, it evokes joy and sorrow as it delivers a story conceived in love and rendered with compassion and humor.

The novel centers on Buddy Threadgoode Jr., born in 1929 in Whistle Stop, Ala., and raised by his mother, Ruth Jamison Bennett, Idgie Threadgoode, Ruth’s partner in life, and the cafe whose family gives Buddy his surname.

Flagg brings readers up to date as Buddy becomes a veterinarian, marries Peggy Ann Hadley and sires daughter Ruthie. She, in turn, weds Brooks Lee Caldwell, moves to Atlanta, provides Buddy with two grandchildren and tries to ignore the barbs of her class-conscious mother-in-law.

From there, the tale takes off, and so does Buddy—now 84 and recently widowed—as he plans and executes an escape from a retirement home.

His goal: a journey by train back to Whistle Stop, a town he finds sadly diminished by the passage of the years. Ruthie’s search for her father—and the developments it engenders—will beguile anyone who seeks balm in troubled times.

Flagg brings impressive talents to her yarn: spellbinding storytelling, deftly drawn characters and an unerring ear for credible dialogue.

But not even that array of skills could explain Flagg’s literary success without the firm foundation on which she builds her novels: a steadfast belief in humanity’s basic goodness.

Affirming the pull of home, the power of remembrance and the preeminence of place, “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop” represents a gift, a blessing and a triumph.

And as it showcases Flagg’s ability to write a sweet but never saccharine, comical but never cruel, profound but never pompous narrative, it celebrates the bonds of family and friends—and the possibilities of recovery and renewal.

Jay Strafford, a retired Virginia journalist, now lives in Florida.

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