Fannie Flagg may be best known for her novel “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” — which landed her an Oscar nomination for the screenplay — but she also has won plenty of fans for her series set in the small fictional town of Elmwood Springs, Mo.

Previous glimpses into Elmwood Springs (“Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!” “Standing in the Rainbow” and “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven”) focused on a handful of characters. But with her latest novel, “The Whole Town’s Talking,” Flagg peels back the layers of the town’s history to get to the start of it all: one Swedish dairy farmer, looking to build a new community and to win the affections of his mail-order bride.

The story begins in 1889 as farmer Lordor Nordstrom picks out a patch of land that will serve as the town’s cemetery. As the years pass, the story moves from Nordstrom and his contemporaries to their children and grandchildren, wrapping them in change: world wars, women’s suffrage, the parade of new movies and stars on the marquee at the theater.

It’s a sweeping, cinematic approach that can feel almost disorienting by the end, as the names and years and relationships pile up. Flagg’s gentle storytelling makes the novel an easy, comfortable read that will leave a reader thinking about life, love and loss — but perhaps also wishing that the town’s many tales could be explored more deeply.

 

Erin Golden is a reporter at the Star Tribune.

The Whole Town's Talking
By: Fannie Flagg.
Publisher: Random House, 402 pages, $28.