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

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

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A woman's personal identity is dismantled when she discovers a family secret. Ms Flagg at her wittiest and most cuttingly observant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099593140

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2005 Alabama: Sookie Earle awakes one morning a 59 year old happily married female Methodist with American roots that go way back in history and a wonderfully steadfast dentist husband. However before she goes to bed that night all that (apart from the married and female bits) will change.

1940s Wisconsin: a Polish immigrant family lose their men to wartime conscription and so have to make a go of their family gas station alone. Fritzi and her sisters rise to the challenge and then take on another more dangerous adventure, taking to the skies for the war effort.

American writer Fannie Flagg has a gift for presenting us with delicious slices of US southern state life making us both laugh and cry. Once we've done that the realisation hits that this isn't about them at all, it's about us. Fannie did it with novels like I Still Dream About You and the more famous Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and now, doggone if she hasn't done it again.

Sookie Earle considers herself a white Anglo-Saxon protestant – a wasp. She's the epitome of respectability, being about to trace her American ancestry back into history and is a member of the right clubs and organisations. She's also an inspiration to all around her, having married her kids off well while caring for her mother who has the dementia that affects all women on her side of the family. Then one morning she learns what her mother has kept from her for all her 59 years and a new journey towards her identity begins.

Sookie changes before our eyes. We begin by laughing at her in a 'that'll teach her' way. This is a woman who makes judgements (He's very nice but he plays the zither for a living.), shortens her daughters' names to an almost Tellytubby extent and has covered herself with a shell of propriety. When the shell cracks, we just want to hug her.

Sookie's story alternates with that of the Jurdabralinskis (don't ask me to pronounce it!) who made a name built on the cleanliness of the toilets in their family gas station. (I kid you not!) Then, as the family grows, the focus of the reputation moves from hygiene and gas stations to Fritzi, the eldest and most daring of the four daughters.

Fritzi and her family show us a side of small town America we don't often see from here, along with an arm of the US wartime services I didn't realise existed. Their saga brings us the ups and downs, drawing us into the family's heart as well as that of the Polish American community. The vignette during which we witness how Polish America heard about the fall of their motherland to the Nazis is particularly heart-wrenching in the light of what we know from history is to come.

Gradually we realise that the connection between the two eras' stories is more than 'wasp' (very clever!) but even then it's not as cut and dried as we think. This is an author prepared for our second guessing, so be warned.

Indeed as our ideas of where the story is taking us change at each turn, there's one thing we do know. It's fun, entertaining and informative in equal measure while encouraging us all to wonder about the gap between ours' and others' perceptions along with what makes us… well… us. Oh yes, Fannie Flagg you have indeed done it again.

(Thank you so much to the kind folk at Vintage for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this sounds like your type of book, you'll love I Still Dream About You. If you're already a fan, we also recommend The Year After by Martin Davies, someone else who can build warmth and texture into his characters.

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