I have seen the film based on this novel (the theme at the moment seems to be books that have been made into films) and I will say that I really like it. I was a little concerned that the book would be more convoluted or more depressing or cheesy or something. Luckily, the book was equally delicious, though in different ways.
The frame of the story is the stories the elderly Mrs. Ninnie Threadgood tells her new friend Evelyn--a bored housewife who comes to the nursing home with her husband to visit his mother. Ninnie weaves for Evelyn the exciting, tragic, and very dramatic tale of the Threadgood family--specifically the story of Idgie, the tomboyish black sheep--and the lives around them during the Depression era in rural Whistlestop, Alabama. As Evelyn hears the story of Idgie, Idgie's best friend (and lover?) Ruth, Smokey Lonesome the hobo, Sipsy--the family's black servant--and her family, and everyone else, it gives Evelyn the strength to face up to her own life and try to change herself. The stories of the two friendships weave through the story, which is arranged in dated chapters, switching between Evelyn and Ninnie, Idgie, and various other characters' viewpoints as well as excerpts from "local newspapers." The story is not nearly as narrow and focused as the film, and in several places characters and story lines were minimized or eliminated entirely from the movie. The book is much less about just the story of Idgie, Ruth, and the Whistlestop Cafe, and more about a place and a time. At the end, there are even several pages of Sipsey's recipes for things like fried chicken and the fried green tomatoes of the title.
I enjoyed the book a lot--it was an easy read, and a welcome break from the deluge of non-fictional disasters I've been wading through lately. It's a heartwarming "chick flick" of a book that men would probably not enjoy but is a great read for a hormonal woman. ;)