gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Hardcover (available in trade; in mass market in December 2007), 288 pages, 2005

Rating: 10/10

Reason for Reading: Normally I don’t really gravitate towards authors from the Southern U.S., but sometimes enthusiasm is contagious.

Synopsis: There’s a body buried in Possett, Alabama, and Arlene (Lena) Fleet has been telling herself that it’s gone undiscovered because she’s kept her three promises to God: no lying, no sex unless she’s married, and no going back to Alabama. But now someone from her past has come knocking on her door, and it looks like God isn’t interested in keeping up the bargain any longer…

Why you should read this book: Hear that? That’s the sound of my socks being knocked off. Everything about this book is great: the rich, complex characters; a spicy, make-your-jaw-drop plot; and a big dose of Southern hominess stirred in with some Northern edginess. Jackson never takes the easy way out with her characters and their relationships, making the flow of their actions seem unexpected yet natural. The plot is full of scandals and secrets, leaving the reader glued to the pages to watch Lena peel back the layers of lies that accumulated before her ‘no lies’ vow. The characters have very intricate relationships: there’s Lena’s black boyfriend, Burr, a surprise for her whiter-than-white family; her Aunt Florence, a strong woman who acts as both the ruling force and the glue that keeps her extended family together; and her cousin Clarice, as close as a sister and joint possessor of Lena’s darkest secrets. Gods in Alabama promises to be one of the success stories of 2005, not just as a fantastic debut novel, but a fantastic novel, period. This one is completely out of left field – the book you’ve been searching for without even knowing it was what you wanted – until you discover you’ve already been sucked in before you finish the first page.

Why you should avoid this book: Avoid it? What are you, crazy? Well…if you’re looking for a straightforward cozy type of Southern author, Jackson might have injected a bit too much murder and bad attitude into gods in Alabama for your tastes.

Opening paragraph:

There are Gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches.

Fabulous quotes:

Her eyes were huge with worry. ‘This is the stupidest thing I have ever done in my life. Should I wait for you?’
I shook my head. ‘I’ll get home. You need to make curfew.’ It was only about a four-mile walk. I could hoof it in under an hour. ‘If anyone asks, later on or tomorrow, not just our parents but anyone, you’ll say you took me home. Okay? And don’t worry. I have a plan, and he isn’t going to hurt me again.’
I waited until she nodded, uncertain but trusting, and then I stepped back from the car. I stood in the shadows and watched her drive away.
The truth is, I had no idea what I was planning to do. I knew that the freshman girl was up there. Maybe I just planned to spy on them. Maybe I wanted to go snatch that girl up and drag her stupid little patootie home. I swear I did not have a plan. But I’ll admit I didn’t want anyone to know I was heading up onto the hilltop after Jim Beverly.

I had promised God I would stop systematically fucking my way through Fruiton High School. In fact, I had promised to stop fornicating completely. But truthfully, up until I fell in love with Burr, cutting sex out of my life had been more of a relief than a sacrifice. I had promised God that I would go into exile and never return to Alabama. But if God had my relatives, He would happily promise to stay out of Alabama too.

Also recommended: The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoe Heller; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.

Also by this author: Between, Georgia.

Author’s website: joshilynjackson.com

Fun tidbit: Jackson started her career travelling with a dinner theatre troupe, but eventually realized she would rather write plays than act in them.

Click here for Book Brothel’s interview with Joshilyn Jackson.

Would I read more by this author? Yes! But what do you mean I’ll have to wait until 2006 for her next novel?

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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