Satisfying small-town story
Bestselling writer Fannie Flagg returns to a fan-favorite locale, Elmwood Springs, Missouri, in her latest saga steeped in small-town life. Peopled with a memorable cast of characters, Flagg’s chatty historical novel spans nearly 150 years in the life, growth and eventual decline of this small farming community in southern Missouri.
It all begins with Lordor Nordstrom, a young Swedish immigrant. In the early 1880s, Lordor finds a large tract of land in Missouri that is perfect for his long dreamed-of dairy farm. He places an ad in Swedish-American newspapers, hoping to attract other farmers from his homeland, and soon the small community begins to thrive. Lordor also donates a piece of land for the local cemetery, Still Meadows—a peaceful plot with a magnificent view of the town below.
By 1889, Lordor realizes it’s time to start a family, so he advertises for a mail-order bride. Katrina Olsen, who left Sweden five years earlier and is eager to escape her job working as a housemaid in Chicago, answers his ad, and they become a successful team, working hard to expand their dairy and raising two devoted children.
Chapter by chapter, Flagg introduces a growing number of characters: friends and neighbors of the Nordstroms and their children, their siblings, wives and ex-wives, husbands and ex-husbands. There’s 18-year-old Lucille Beemer, who comes from Philadelphia in 1901 to teach the growing school population; Gustav Tildholme, who has a lifelong crush on Lucille, but never gets a chance to tell her; Elner Shimfissle, who sings to her chickens to make them lay bigger eggs; Ander Swensen, who learns the dairy business from Lordor; the Nordstroms’ daughter Ingrid, who becomes the first female to attend Iowa’s famed School of Veterinary Medicine—and many more.
One by one these characters make their way up to Still Meadows. There, though deceased, they are still able to communicate with one another and learn about how the world is changing, as each newcomer delivers the latest news, from airplane travel, to World War II, the atomic bomb and the advent of television.
The Whole Town’s Talking joins previous Elmwood Springs novels, which include Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and Standing in the Rainbow. Though it’s sometimes hard to keep track of the many characters, Flagg’s humor shines through as she chronicles their successes, disappointments and even a mysterious murder or two. Flagg was nominated for an Academy Award for the screen adaptation of her novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and her latest has a cinematic quality as well. The interwoven lives of these completely engaging characters twist and turn in unexpected ways, making this chronicle of a close-knit community a pleasure to read.
This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.