Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Books

Review: 'All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion' is, yes, quirky

“Quirky," "wise," "witty," "warm-hearted" are all words that critics use when they come up against a certain kind of book, but "quirky" is the tipoff 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 — well, there's no real explaining it except by using the "Q" word.

When it 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 the same formula: Flagg takes a few women and showers them with surprises that turn out to be happiness bombs, leaving them richer and wiser in every way. Quirky.

Sookie, or Mrs. Earle Poole Jr., as she is more formally known in Point Clear, Ala., is beloved by all, except maybe herself. She's a woman of 59 who has just finished marrying off three of her four children and has raised a menagerie of animals, including an alligator in the basement. Her husband 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. She's also — still! — 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. A mysterious man on the phone tells her, "You are not who you think you are." It turns out that Sookie isn't a Southern belle at all, but the child of a Roman Catholic Polish unwed mother named Fritzi, with an unpronounceable last name. Besides everything else, she's a year older than she has been led to believe: "There's nothing more unattractive," she thinks in despair, "than a 60-year-old ex-cheerleader still trying to be perky."

But what of this obscure Polish girl, Fritzi, a person so low on Sookie's social scale that she hesitates for weeks before telling her children she's adopted? 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, it seems perfectly believable that they all learn to fly. During World War II, they almost all join the WASPs — Women Airforce Service Pilots — to ferry military planes to points of departure for various fronts.

Fritzi is full of rough edges and patriotic cliches. She loves that pilot who trained her but knows he's not the marrying kind. We wait to see how and when she's going to get pregnant, but she seems too smart for that.

Meanwhile, we're treated to a history of the WASPs, the churlish rudeness of many a macho guy who envies feminine courage, and Fritzi's heroism.

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.

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Events: Tarbell.org founder Wendell Potter to discuss, sign book

Book TalkTarbell.org founder Wendell Potter (Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It) will discuss and sign his book at 4 p.m. May 23 at the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 Ninth Ave. N.Applications are ...
Published: 05/21/18
The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

The real stuff is how Tom Wolfe best used his write stuff

om Wolfe’s best writing lifted real people into legend: car designers and astronauts and disciples of LSD. With that writing, Wolfe lifted himself into legend as well.The author of 16 books, including such bestsellers as The Right Stuff and The Bonfi...
Published: 05/18/18
Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

Review: In Stephen King’s ‘The Outsider,’ evil can’t be true but must be true

On a July day, Terry Maitland, one of the most popular men in Flint City, Okla. — high school English teacher, Little League coach, husband and father, recently named the town’s man of the year — attends a teachers convention in a city over an hour’s...
Published: 05/17/18

Events: Gilbert King to discuss ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ at Inkwood in Tampa

Book TalkCutter Wood (Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime) will discuss and sign his nonfiction book about a murder on Anna Maria Island at 6 p.m. May 14 at Bookstore1, 12 S Palm Ave., Sarasota.The Gulfport Historical Society p...
Published: 05/11/18
Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

Notable: As Mother’s Day nears, these new books are timely

NotableMore about mothersFor Mother’s Day, three new books offer a range of takes on motherhood.Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience (Random House) by Allison Pataki is a memoir by a novelist whose 30-year-old husband ...
Published: 05/11/18
Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

Review: A criminal’s confession is just the beginning in Michael Koryta’s compelling ‘How It Happened’

It’s what every investigator hopes for: a tough case finally solved when one of the criminals confesses, providing solid details and even describing where the bodies are buried.Or, in Michael Koryta’s compelling new psychological thriller How It Happ...
Published: 05/10/18
Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

Anthony Award nominees include Tampa’s Michael Connelly, Down & Out Books

When the World Mystery Convention, a.k.a. Bouchercon, takes place in St. Petersburg in September and hands out its coveted Anthony Awards, the Tampa Bay Area will be well represented among the nominees.The award nominees, announced May 9, include Tam...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/10/18
Review: In Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon,’ the voice of slavery’s history speaks

Review: In Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon,’ the voice of slavery’s history speaks

It has taken Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" 87 years to see print. But maybe it happened at just the right time.Just a week before the book’s May 8 publication date, rapper Kanye West opined in a TMZ intervie...
Published: 05/09/18
Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

When Rick Bragg told his mother that his new book about her would be titled The Best Cook in the World, Margaret Bragg protested: "I wasn’t even the best cook that lived on our road." Bragg writes, "I told her we couldn’t call it The Thi...
Published: 05/09/18
Review: Ace Atkins takes an artful turn with Spenser in ‘Old Black Magic’

Review: Ace Atkins takes an artful turn with Spenser in ‘Old Black Magic’

Art can bring us joy, enlarge our perspective, even enlighten us. Sometimes, though, it can make us behave badly.In Ace Atkins’ new novel, Old Black Magic, art makes people behave very badly indeed.Three works of art, to be specific. A Picasso sketch...
Updated one month ago