Reviews and updates from Amber Foxx, author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series
My book club chose this book on a night I was unable to attend. I wonder if they’ll share my aversion to it. For some reason, it has been very popular for years. I must have missed something. I almost decided not to review it, but I had to get it out of my system.
I concede that it’s well-crafted, though in a manner better suited to a screenplay than a novel, no doubt because of author Flagg’s background in television and directing. The fragmented narrative jumps around in time over approximately a forty-year period. An old woman in a nursing home reminisces to a friend. The third-person narrator’s is voice identical to that of the old woman reminiscing. Clips from a forcedly quaint local newspaper column break the narration up even more without moving the plot forward, and are written in essentially the same voice.
Another way in which Flagg seems affected by TV is in the broadly-drawn, stereotypical characters. It’s as if she’s the director looking for a type-cast-able actor to fill a role, and can’t think of a wholly original person. A tomboyish lesbian. Good ol’ gals. Whore with a heart of gold (perhaps not in it for money, but still—the type). Hard-working black people who have loyal and loving relationships with white employers in the Jim Crow South.
This old South is treated with cuteness and nostalgia, as if a few tough-minded, good-hearted white ladies could make it all okay. Even rape and murder turn out okay in the end because the good ol’ gals take the law into their own hands, and those good, loyal black folks do, too. This book includes the most deeply revolting way of disposing of a body I have ever read. I found it sick, not funny, even if it worked expediently in the plot.
The author’s saccharine tone while portraying injustice and racism was jarring. The reason one black character gets sent to jail is stunningly trivial and unfair, and yet the book skims over his suffering. The author relishes listing features of nightlife in the black part of segregated Birmingham, listing and listing and listing, but the life of the man so involved in that nightlife is given much less depth. Only one tragedy gets its moment as a tragedy, and it involves a minor character. The little-known piece of history relating to Hoover-towns in that scene is moving. More of the book could have had this strength, but instead got stuck in syrup.
I read cozy mysteries occasionally, and in those the authors have to walk a fine line to avoid trivializing murder and death while writing a humorous story about the process of solving a murder. In this sappy but clever book, the author fails to walk that line. In Flagg’s Whistle Stop, Alabama, sheer good-ol-galness can overcome everything from menopause and depression to The Great Depression to the loss of a limb to the Klan to an abusive husband. Despite the historical small town setting, not a single white woman is racist, and no one is prejudiced against an apparently lesbian couple either. And it ends with recipes.