Fannie Flagg spins her small-town formula once again

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Fannie Flagg. Random. 347 pages. $27.
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Fannie Flagg. Random. 347 pages. $27.

“Quirky,” “wise,” “witty,” “warm-hearted” are all words that critics use when they come up against a certain sort of book, but “quirky” is the tip-off that the critic didn’t really get it.

We reviewers are usually crabby by nature, and writers are supposed to suffer and be temperamental, so when a book shows up wearing a big smile and bright clothes we use the “Q” word.

When it first came out in 1987, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe filled that description. Fannie Flagg clearly loved her characters, and her description of how one couple got scared half to death when the missus had her first orgasm after many years of marriage will stay in the minds of Flagg’s readers forever.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion follows roughly the same formula. The author takes a few women, some more hapless than others, and showers them with surprises that turn out to be happiness bombs, leaving them richer and wiser in every way.

Sookie, or Mrs. Earle Poole Jr., as she is more formally known in the historic little town of Point Clear, Ala., is beloved by all, except maybe herself. She’s 59 and has just finished marrying off three of her four children and has successfully raised a menagerie of animals, including an alligator in the basement. She’s looking at what should be her peaceful golden years. Her husband, Earle, is a successful dentist who admires her beyond words. But her mother, terribly energetic at the age of 88, lives two houses down. Mother Lenore is critical, nosy, pushy, chairman of every club in Point Clear and beyond. She’s also startlingly beautiful, with flowing scarves and scatter pins and a family inheritance that includes real pearls and a full set of silver. She is every inch a Southern lady and insists that Sookie be the same.

But this is not to be. Sookie discovers she isn’t a Southern belle at all but the child of a Roman Catholic Polish unwed mother named Fritzi, with a unpronounceable last name. And besides everything else, she’s a year older than she’s been led to believe: “There’s nothing more unattractive,” she thinks in despair, “than a sixty-year-old ex-cheerleader still trying to be perky.”

The author takes us back to the early 20th century, when Fritzi’s father is a teenage immigrant in a small Wisconsin town of other hard-working Poles who farm and play the accordion and keep ferociously clean houses. Fritzi’s sisters are a darling bunch and courageous, so when a barnstorming pilot comes through town between the wars, they all learn to fly. During World War II, they almost all join the WASPs — Women Airforce Service Pilots — to ferry military planes from their factory of origin to their point of departure for various fronts.

And at the other end of the country, Sookie, full of shyness and hesitation, seeks out her real mom and her destiny. It’s Flagg’s pleasure to hit her characters with several happy endings, but the real happiness is that she’s given us another lovable — and quirky — novel.

Carolyn See reviewed this book for the Washington Post.

Read more Books stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">STONE MATTRESS: </span>Nine Tales. Margaret Atwood. Nan A. Talese. Doubleday. 288 pages. $25.95.


    Past looms large in new stories from Margaret Atwood

    In Margaret Atwood’s new collection, the past looms large for aging protagonists, but sympathy and regret abound, too.

  • What are you reading now?

    “I just finished Claire DeWitt and The City of the Dead by Sara Gran, which I love, love, loved. It’s a mystery set in New Orleans shortly after the storm and solved by girl detective, Claire DeWitt, who applies her special method of detection which is pretty much based on yoga and Buddhism combined with the altered mind states of drugs, drink, dreams and growing up in Brooklyn.”

 <span class="cutline_leadin">WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS:</span> The World of Personal Data — Lifeblood of Big Business C — and the End of Privacy as We Know It. Adam Tanner. PublicAffairs. 316 pages. $27.99.


    ‘What Stays in Vegas’ examines data packaging and the end of privacy

    Journalist explains how data packaging makes American companies the biggest threat to privacy.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category