The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg *****

Big, big fun! I recently read this wonderful new work by the famous and always hilarious Fannie Flagg. One of Flagg’s hallmarks is that she spins over-the-top characters so real you can almost see them, but then she sneaks in subtle metaphors and other devices so clever that for me, it takes awhile to sink in.

As she did in Fried Green Tomatoes (a personal favorite), she morphs back and forth between the present and the bygone era of World War II, homing in on the WASPs–women who served as pilots for the armed services, ferrying planes from one part of the country to another so that all military male pilots could do other things.

The story starts in the present with the key protagonist, Sookie, who is informed one day by mail that she is adopted. Given that she is already having a few anxiety issues, this is the last thing she needs. As women go, she feels like a failure; she is a little finch, and does not stand a chance of fulfilling the thunderous expectations of her adoptive mother, who was a Blue Jay from the get-go. When the bomb drops on Sookie, she realizes that she has been reading the wrong horoscope all this time! Her mother has made such a fuss about family bloodlines and heredity, and it turns out that her long-gone ancestors are “total strangers”! She is about ready to come unstuck.

I won’t spoil the rest of it for you. In a completely entertaining manner, Flagg drives home the inequity dealt women pilots during this time period, who received no veteran status, medical benefits, or pension for their service to the country. The 39 who died on the job had no death benefits, either. I salute Flagg (oh, sorry, bad pun!) for putting her literary muscle behind a feminist cause at a time when many sneer at feminism as a thing of the past.

One minor detail that I mention for those who are Japanese-American, Japanese, or close to someone who is: because Pearl Harbor is mentioned here, vintage (but nevertheless painful) use of the “J” slur is used here. It is contextual, and it passes by quickly, but just as many folks blanch at reading Twain’s fiction for the “n” word, so do those who are stung by the “J” word (myself among them) need to know it’s coming. It just helps to be prepared. It isn’t done in a mean-spirited way, and I am glad I read it. But sometimes it helps if you can brace yourself.

The plot is well-paced and is less complex than Fried Green Tomatoes, which hosted a variety of settings that required the reader to carefully scan the heading on the first page of a given chapter in order to be properly oriented. This is more of a quick back-and-forth. It was my fun, light reading at bed time. My only real regret is that it’s over.

Get a copy right away if you love Fannie Flagg as I do!

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