The Whole Town's Talking
If you are among the tens of millions of Americans who were lucky enough to be born and raised in what some call flyover country, you will swear that THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING is about you. Do you remember the stories your parents and grandparents told? How they trudged through blizzards to a one-room schoolhouse heated by a potbellied stove, did their lessons by kerosene lanterns, and stored food in the storm cellar against hard times, which they sure enough had back in the Great Depression?
You may have grown your own food, shot your own game, dressed up for church on Sundays and entertained the pastor in the front parlor. Maybe you collected for your paper route and pedaled around town delivering the news. And do you recall collecting the bottled milk the dairy left on your doorstep? Or catching fireflies in a jar, or playing tag among the gravestones at the town cemetery?
You’ve heard it all, maybe lived some of it, but you’ve never heard it the way Fannie Flagg tells it.
"...a satisfying read, a gift with a whimsical twist to America’s heritage. Fannie Flagg is a storyteller’s storyteller, and I look forward to seeing what she dishes up next."
The tale begins in the 1880s when Swedish dairyman Lordor Nordstrom emigrates to the land of opportunity to start his own dairy business. He finds the perfect spot in the rich loam soil of Missouri and places an ad in the Swedish American newspaper back home, inviting other farmers and their families to join him. By 1889 a small community has developed called Swede Town. Hardworking but awkward Lordor, still a bachelor at age 39, sends off to Sweden for a mail-order bride. And so begins the heartwarming, amusing and unusual saga of life in small-town Middle America. It spans 132 amazing years, perhaps more amazing to the town’s inhabitants than they could have imagined.
Lordor, who feels a great responsibility to the settlers who answered his call, donates a beautiful plot of land for the cemetery atop a hill with a view of the valley. He names it Still Meadows, the perfect final resting place for his friends and neighbors. But “resting place” isn’t quite as restful, or still, as its name implies, and when strange things begin to happen, the whole town starts talking.
Eager to embrace a good read to curl up with to wash the bruising vitriol of the past months from my mind, I welcomed the arrival of Flagg’s new novel one afternoon last week. Fondly remembering her award-winning book that became a hit movie, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLESTOP CAFE, I fell upon THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING with welcoming arms. I whisked through the first 150 pages in a couple of hours and, after eating a hastily prepared late dinner, finished it off before turning out the lights.
THE WHOLE TOWN’S TALKING was like reading about my own family history --- right down to my great-grandfather and his three Scottish brothers, sons of a man who jumped ship in Barbados, fleeing England’s indentured servitude laws. The brothers founded a town in Southwestern Iowa in the 1880s, and one of their earliest acts was to donate 25 acres of their homestead to the town as a cemetery. Had I known what may, or may not, be taking place beneath those headstones over these many decades, might I have been more diligent in visiting my late relatives?
This novel is a homage to the millions of descendants of those adventurous pioneers who came to America from far-flung countries to join the Westward Expansion era of rural America. Their story has become a beacon to new immigrants from even further far-flung nations whose hopes and dreams are to reap the freedom and bounty of their own hard work.
Prepare to be delighted by fond memories, evocative of Thornton Wilder’s OUR TOWN. It is, quite simply, a satisfying read, a gift with a whimsical twist to America’s heritage. Fannie Flagg is a storyteller’s storyteller, and I look forward to seeing what she dishes up next.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 2, 2016