Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion" by Fannie Flagg

   All hail to Fannie Flagg, the absolute queen of storytelling! She weaves a can't-wait-to-turn-the-page tale like nobody else, spins characters (some new, some old friends from previous stories) you wish lived right next door to you and you start to miss before the book is even finished, and teaches you a little something along the way. Now that is the very best of fiction writing!  
  In her newest novel "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion," Flagg tells side-by-side stories occurring in different places and times, reminiscent of her bestselling novel "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe." In the beginning we get reacquainted with Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr., aka Sarah Jane "Sookie" Poole, daughter of the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry, of Point Clear, Alabama. The last time I hung out with Sookie was in Flagg's novel "Welcome to the World, Baby Girl," when her kids were still little and her best college friend Dena Nordstrom comes to Alabama to escape the pressures of being a big city newswoman. Now Sookie's kids are all grown up, the last of her and Earle's girls are married off, and she is contemplating relaxing and figuring out what's next for her life. Believe me, never in her wildest imagination, even with the tad bit of crazy that runs through the Simmons' family, did Sookie figure on what happens next.
   While Sookie is fretting and fainting and seeing psychiatrist Dr. Shapiro on the sly (oh my!), we also follow the Jurdabralinksi family's journey all the way from war-torn Poland to Pulaski, Wisconsin, and them scoring a perfect 100 for the cleanest restrooms in the entire Phillips 66 Petroleum chain. Those Jurdabralinskis are a hoot! From fearless Fritzi to war-bound Wink-a-Dink to sweet Sophie, Flagg made me feel like I got to hang out with each and every one of them, got to hear their innermost thoughts, feel their fears and joys. And somehow through vignettes and letters, Flagg meshes the lives of Sookie Poole and the Jurdabralinskis into a charming, heartwarming, and thoroughly entertaining story that also reminds the world of the WASPS -- the Women Air Force Service Pilots -- that risked their lives to ferry planes to military bases during World War II despite being considered "volunteers" and never being eligible for military benefits. I was awed at the amazing courage of these lady fliers, 38 of whom died in service, who stepped up when their country needed them and were cast away with barely a "thanks" of recognition when the war was coming to a close.
   Thanks Fannie, for teaching me about the WASPS, acquainting me with the Jurdabralinskis (I hope I meet them again in another book!), and bringing Sookie back with a bang in a book of her very own. I love, love, love "The All-Girls Filling-Station's Last Reunion!" My only complaint is that it's been soooo long since your last novel, so get started on the next one right away!  


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