What’s Kelly Reading Now?
The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg
My first encounter with Fannie Flagg was in eighth grade when I read Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man, and I have been a devoted follower ever since. Her characters are unforgettable, vulnerable, and three-dimensional. Although the prose is not flowery or complicated, Ms. Flagg knows how to tell a story–it is as simple as that. If your only encounter with her body of work is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, I implore you to you delve further. You will laugh, you will cry, but more importantly, you will come to a deeper understanding of the human story and what it means to be vulnerable.
The Whole Town’s Talking begins during the late 1800’s when a quaint village called Elmwood Springs, Missouri, was founded by Swedish settlers. What happens in the 400-odd pages afterward is a yarn of delight that runs through every decade in the 20th century and then on to a futuristic time in 2021. All of the town’s original settlers and the varied stories of their ancestors for many future generations makes for a lot of characters. However, Flagg does such a brilliant job of portraying each quirky individual so that the reader rarely, if ever, loses track of who is whom.
Flagg truly engages the reader with all of the feelings, emotions, and experiences that are part of the human condition.
In addition to these charming, oddball and lovable characters that are the heartbeat of the novel, the storyline operates as a time traveling machine taking the reader through major historical events of the last 125 years. The reader experiences several different wars, Harry Truman’s inauguration, disco, and even a cameo by Bonnie and Clyde! Weightier subjects such as addiction, unemployment, illness and death caused by texting and driving are also adeptly handled. There are moments of tragedy, triumph, sickness, and mirth. Flagg truly engages the reader with all of the feelings, emotions, and experiences that are part of the human condition. Don’t count on this novel to take itself too seriously though. There is an incident of death-by-exploding-toilet that is proof that the novelist has not lost the sense of humor that has kept her readers laughing for decades.
One noteworthy aspect of this epic novel is that it is really an account of two parallel stories. The one happening in the town and the one happening on the town’s hill where the cemetery is situated. After death, each town resident is not transported off to heaven or some other mystical realm, but to the town cemetery where there is a joyful reunion with previously deceased neighbors, friends, and family. The newly arrived townsperson is able to spread the word of the goings-on in Elmwood and the world.
This novel is such a charming companion to those in Flagg’s other Elmwood Springs novels including Welcome to the World Baby Girl, Standing in the Rainbow, and Can’t Wait to Get Heaven. None of these need to be read in any particular order and are all uniquely delightful. The reader will fall in love with many enchanting personas in this series, but my favorite is Elner Shimfizzle. She is as funny as her name, a perpetual optimist who will have you in stitches. Her outlook and philosophies on life are often simply stated yet somehow profound.
‘I think most people are confused about life because it’s not just one thing going on,’ said Elner. ‘It’s many things going on at the same time. Life is both sad and happy, simple and complex all at the same time.’
You hit the nail on the head, Elner. So did you, Ms. Flagg. As always.