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The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Conversation with Fannie Flagg and Pat Conroy

Fannie Flag

Teresa Weaver of Atlanta Magazine caught up with bestselling authors Fannie Flagg and Pat Conroy to talk about their newest novels.

Teresa Weaver: These two books are very different in so many ways, but at the heart of both, it really is all about family. Fannie, you managed to tell the whole history of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) through one extraordinary family. What kind of research did you do for this book?

Fannie Flagg: I read almost every book that was written about them and talked to a lot of them.

TW: What drew you to this subject?

FF: There's a restaurant in Birmingham called the Whistle Stop Café, the café that I wrote Fried Green Tomatoes about. I happened to call the café one day, because I'm friends with the owner, and she said, “Oh! We’ve got a group of gals here having lunch that used to fly military planes. They were WASPs.” I said, “That’s fabulous. Let me buy them lunch.” They started writing me letters and sending me books about them. I always wanted to write about them, but I couldn't figure out how. I had to create another story going on — one, a southern family, which of course I always write about, and one, the story of the WASPs.

TW: Pat, after all the autobiographical breadcrumbs that you dropped in your fiction over the years, now you finally tell the full, unvarnished story of your family. How difficult was that?

Pat Conroy: With my book, I'm dealing with my father, the most Yankeefied man that ever lived, and my mother, the most falsely classical southerner. Everything about my mother that she said was from the old South, the aristocratic South, was completely and utterly false, as I found out when I wrote this book.

But these two people got married in World War II and that's how lives get changed. The pilot from Chicago met the beauty on Peachtree Road and they got married and produced one of the most horrible families that ever lived in America.

FF: Every time I finish one of Pat's books, I want to take all of my books, burn them, change my name and move to another country. He stuns me with his clarity, his honesty about writing about what is so close to him. I was so close to a bad childhood that I blotted it out.

But Pat is absolutely brilliant. I don't know how he does it, remembering details like scenes in a movie. And this new book, I just sobbed. It was stunning.

TW: It's difficult to read at some points because it is so honest and so hard to imagine living through.

PC: Dad drank and then he beat you and he beat mom and he beat everybody else. What dad was good at was making all of us alcoholics later. The memory of that was seared in my memory, and I could not get rid of it.

Now, to answer Fannie, when I read her books, I think, why wasn't I a woman born in Alabama? Hilarious stories happened to me, but my stories don't seem hilarious to me; they seem simply out of King Lear. I just read Fannie's book and I'm roaring laughing. Then she always hits me with a part that breaks my heart.

TW: Fannie, there's such a sweet natured appeal to the characters in your novels. Have you written many really mean or despicable characters?

FF: Oh, yes. In Fried Green Tomatoes there was Frank Bennett. In this one, too, there's a bad guy. But usually I don't. I don't know why.

But I want to talk about these dysfunctional childhoods. I think people are always asking why southern writers do this so well. I'm working on a theory. I think the thing that injures people the most is humiliation. Most people don't know, or choose not to remember, that the south was the only part of the United States that was ever defeated in war. And so we were humiliated. That is a wound that doesn't heal. All the Southerners had was their so-called family name. That's all they had left. Being humiliated injures people, and it makes you want to explain yourself and keep saying but, but, but, but, but.

TW: What do you think of that, Pat?

PC: I agree. There's something about the storytelling mystique that comes out of the South. My mother and grandmother raised me to hate William Tecumseh Sherman. I didn't even know who he was. But he burned Atlanta. I read about Sherman while I was at [the Citadel] and I thought, good soldier. I told my mother this and she said she would never speak to me again if I ever mentioned a word.

Fannie can write that bad South. This gal Lenore in her new book, you know, southern womanhood has rarely been so roasted or put over the grill so well. That woman drove me nuts.

TW: I think we've all known a Lenore. Fannie, do any people from your real life ever make their way into your novels?

FF: Yes. Lenore, the southern matriarch, was based very closely on my grandmother and my mother's relationship. Sookie is a combination of gals I went to school with. I think I write about the South because the characters down there are so bigger than life, that it's easy for me. People go “Oh, there can't be people like that.” But Pat and I know there really are.

TW: Fannie, you divide your time between California and Alabama, but do you still think of yourself as a southern writer?

FF: Yes, I do. Even when I am writing about another area, I am still writing with a southern point of view. I always write about southerners. I think it's like being in a different country.

TW: Pat, you talk in your book about how you wanted this to be a kind of summing up of all the family drama. Do you feel better now that you've written this book?

PC: No. I thought I would, and I thought I would make my family feel better. But I'm racing now from relatives, my southern branch who come from Piedmont, Alabama. I'm worried about the cousinry coming at me. The Irish Catholics, dad's family in Chicago: I sort of don't know how they're going to take it. If the past is any prologue, they will take it badly, and they will hate me for the rest of their lives, and no one will be named Patrick in the next hundred years in my family.

But it's funny about a bad childhood, you can mess around with it, throw it up in the air. It's got an amazing second life that is always springing to life inside you. I don't think you can ever escape it. It's always going to be there in some way, shape or form. I can write a thousand books and it's still going to be the thing that fashioned me more than anything else.

From Booklist

Aging daughter of the South Sookie Simmons Poole has trudged along cheerfully through life under the shadow of her overbearing mother, Lenore. Faced with empty-nest syndrome, Sookie knows she won’t be too bored, since Lenore lives right next door and still has her mail delivered to Sookie’s house. When a mysterious letter arrives, Sookie questions everything she ever knew about her family, and her story soon dovetails with that of a proud Polish family from Wisconsin. The Jurdabralinskis’ gas station was nearly shuttered when all the area men joined up during WWII, but the family’s four girls bravely stepped up. Eldest daughter Fritzi was already a great mechanic, having been a professional stunt plane pilot in the 1930s. When Fritzi joins the WASPS, an elite but downplayed female branch of the U.S. Air Force, the story really comes to life. Flagg’s storytelling talent is on full display. Her trademark quirky characters are warm and realistic, and the narrative switches easily between the present and the past. HIGH DEMAND BACKSTORY: Flagg’s fans won’t be disappointed in this one, and there’s a lot to be said for giving tribute to the real-life WASPs (the official records of the force were classified and sealed for nearly 35 years). Great possibilities for nonfiction pairings abound for book clubs. --Rebecca Vnuk

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065941
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065943
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3,291 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

FANNIE FLAGG began writing and producing television specials at age nineteen and went on to distinguish herself as an actress and writer in television, films, and the theater. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which was produced by Universal Pictures as Fried Green Tomatoes), Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, and Standing in the Rainbow. Flagg's script for Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for both the Academy and Writers Guild of America Awards and won the highly regarded Scripters Award. Flagg lives in California and in Alabama.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 126 people found the following review helpful By D. Williams VINE VOICE on October 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This latest novel by Fannie Flagg has everything readers of Flagg's earlier works have come to expect. The plot line has several surprises, the style is distinctively Flagg, and the characters are richly created.

Readers see two main story threads. One is in near-present-day Point Clear, Alabama. Sookie Poole, wife of the local dentist and a definitive "Old South" lady, has an eccentric mother to try to keep under control, and a friend, Marvaleen, who is interested in New Age and yoga and encourages Sookie to do the same. Sookie loves to feed the wild birds, but one difficulty of her day is the fact that the larger birds shoo away the small ones.

The other story thread is set in Pulaski, Wisconsin, beginning in 1939 and carrying to the end of World War 2. It's the story of four sisters there who run a filling station on their own as war breaks out. One sister, Fritzi, is a real daredevil and has been a pilot and a wing walker. Another sister is very quiet and attends mass regularly.

These two plot threads are joined by a letter that comes for Sookie's mother, which Sookie opens and reads because she has power of attorney over her mother's affairs. Plenty of surprises abound, and something that you least expect happens.

If you want to try a sharp/funny book that is of the same caliber as Flagg's FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, try this book.
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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Holly TOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am going to give a bit of advice regarding this book:

1) If you have loved Fannie Flagg's other books or enjoy southern fiction, you won't go wrong with this one.

2) Many of the reviews posted give away most (if not all in some cases) of the plot's twists and turns. Spoilers abound with no warning. Be careful about reading them if you wish to be surprised.

Now that that is out of the way, I would like to share with you that Fannie Flagg knows how to tell a tale and do it well. Over the years, I have read just about everything she has written and she is a writer worth re-reading in my opinion. Some books have struck more of a chord than others, but all have been good. This novel is no exception. Flipping between the time periods of 2005 and World War II, there is a little bit of everything here and will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The unpublicized role of women in the war effort adds an historical fiction flare; the family secrets explored are worthy of some of the best women's fiction writers out there; and one of the over-the-top characters adds humor to what could have been a series heavy, emotional topics.

While Ms. Flagg keeps the reader entertained throughout all the pages, there is real meat to this story that can't be ignored. She manages to convey so much without the reader fully grasping at the time how much is there. Only upon further reflection do you realize how masterful she is.

I loved the book and will be recommending it to many friends with all varieties of reading tastes.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By C. Yates VINE VOICE on October 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If possible I would give Fannie Flagg's new novel more than five stars!!! The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion: A Novel is an absolute delight to can't put it down and you don't want it to end. Feeling as if you have had an afternoon with a true southerner who is a master story teller, you will be ready for her next book when you finish this one. The book is written with a dual story in Alabama as a modern story and the other in Pulaski, Wisconsin in the forties.

Sookie Poole discovers a BIG secret one day just as her life was beginning to slow down after marring off her three daughters and leaving her with a empty nest; although her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, who likes to run the entire town lives within walking distance of her, she allows her daughter to take care of the bills, mail, etc. And now the secret is out!!

Meanwhile, in Pulaski many years earlier, there is a filling station run by a Polish family with four girls who help run the filling station when their brother goes to war and their father has been hospitalized with TB. What fun and independence the girls are allowed with this adventure. Fritzi is the one who keeps the business going and delegates the jobs...of course business is booming with the females until gasoline is rationed....the war could not have been won without the female aviators who fly coast to coast in assisting the U.S. government although they were very late in being recognized. All the Jurdabralinski girls flew...had became pregnant without a died in came home to organized the last reunion.

You will find many surprises, delights, tenderness, hilarious tales and a wonderful book.
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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful By EJ on November 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is really two stories in one, and one of those far exceeds the other. The main plot follows a late-fiftyish woman named Sookie who faces a shocking revelation. The second tale is that of a woman named Fritzi, who lived in the WWII era. The problem with this book is that the secondary plotline was well worth reading, while the primary plot, surrounding Sookie, was far less compelling and bordered on ridiculousness.

Sookie is basically a caricature of a southern woman. She is rather silly and comes off as a bit of a dim bulb. I found it very difficult to root for her as she struggles with revelations that she believes will completely change who she is. On the other hand, Fritzi is the bomb. She is a funny, strong, and well-drawn character who makes you actually feel something. The backdrop of Fritzi's story may have contributed to this as well, as it's much more captivating than Sookie's bumbling around in her small town with its cast of not-really-eccentric characters.

I don't think I am spoiling this book by saying that adoption plays a role in it, but this theme hit another flat note. The terminology used is outdated and, dare I say, somewhat offensive. One example is repeated use of the term "real mother" to refer to a birth mother. This tantalizing opportunity to discuss what a "real mother" actually is was squandered on superficial concerns about family crests and sororities.

Altogether, the sub-par Sookie was balanced by the fabulous Fritzi, leading to an average three-star book.
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