While the book jacket says Fannie Flagg's latest novel, The Whole Town's Talking, is about what it means to be truly alive, I looked at the book differently. I saw it as the story of a town, from birth to death. And, it's the story of the people who built the town, and who went on, even after death. It's chatty. It's the slow pace of a small town's daily life.
In the late 1870s, Lordor Nordstrom left Sweden, and found farm land he liked in southern Missouri. He quickly sought other farmers as neighbors, and, by 1880, a small community others called Swede Town was starting to grow. This is the story of Swede Town, later renamed Elmwood Springs. Lordor Nordstrom was named the first mayor, and he and his family, and the other town founders, proved to be excellent stewards of the town. But, Lordor always had his eye on the future, and he donated land for Still Meadows, the local cemetery. Flagg's story is about those town founders, the growth of the town through the twentieth century, and the eventual fate of so many small communities. But, those town founders, including Lordor, his wife, and his friends, found another community in Still Meadows. And, it was from there that they watched the activity of the town, and learned about the events from each new arrival in Still Meadows.
Flagg covers the entire century, the little town, the First World War, which didn't have a great impact, the Second World War, which brought grief. But, she also deals with the businesses in Elmwood Springs and the people who run the dairy, the bakery, the first school. It wasn't until 1956 that Elmwood Springs felt the need to have a police department. And, by the end of the century, there was a crime that affected everyone, living and dead.
One of the elders of the town, Elner Shimfissle, is a large farm woman with an appreciation for daily life. Fannie Flagg is wise in giving a primary role to a woman who is beloved by family, friends, and, who will be loved by readers. Even in death, Elner is wise about life. "I think most people are confused about life, because it's not just one thing going on. It's many things going on at the same time. Life is both sad and happy, simple and complex, all at the same time."
There are moments of humor in The Whole Town's Talking. I found one scene for tears, a scene at the cemetery. Maybe Flagg's book is about life. I still see it as the story of a small town, Elmwood Springs in this case, but the story of so many small towns. It's where you learn "The true meaning of family and friendship and what it means to be a good neighbor." It's a charming story of responsibility. It's a quiet book with little more than the drama of ordinary life. Isn't that enough?
The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg. Random House. 2016. ISBN 9781400065950 (hardcover), 403p.
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