gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.
“THERE ARE GODS in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.”
With a first line like that, how can this NOT be a great book? I first put gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson on my PBS wishlist some time last summer. I wanted to read it for Maggie’s Southern Literature Challenge. Well, I failed the challenge and I never read the book either. I did, however, add it to my list of books I was DEFINITELY going to read in 2008. I started reading it on Sunday, at the tail end of a perfect day spent on the back deck. From start to finish, I felt no urge to dip into any other book.
I’ve been reading Joshilyn Jackson’s blog for a while. I knew she was funny, but I guess I just didn’t expect her humor to carry over to the book so well. She has quite the way with words, and knows just how to turn a phrase to evoke a perfect picture. For example, her blog is called Faster Than Kudzu. Now, if you’re not from the South this will mean nothing to do, but if you are from the South you know, that’s FAST. There are trees under those vines.
Here’s a little snippet from a recent blog post:
“WHAT RADICAL DOOM IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN IF WE PUT UP A PIER IN THE PLACE
WHERE A PIER HAS STOOD FOR HALF A CENTURY?
My patented radical Doom-meter needle barely moved. It didn’t even get
past diddly into SQUAT territory.”
Here’s Publisher’s Weekly summary of the book, stolen from Amazon.com:
From Publishers WeeklyArlene Fleet, the refreshingly imperfect heroine of
Jackson’s frank, appealing debut, launches her story with a list of the title’s
deities: “high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” The first
god, also a date rapist by the name of Jim Beverly, she left dead in her
hometown of Possett, Ala., but the last she embraces wholeheartedly when high
school graduation allows her to flee the South, the murder and her slutty
reputation for a new life in Chicago. Upon leaving home, Arlene makes a bargain
with God, promising to forgo sex, lies and a return home if he keeps Jim’s body
hidden. After nine years in Chicago as a truth-telling celibate, an unexpected
visitor from home (in search of Jim Beverly) leads her to believe that God is
slipping on his end of the deal. As Arlene heads for the Deep South with her
African-American boyfriend, Burr, in tow, her secrets unfold in unsurprising but
satisfying flashbacks. Jackson brings levity to familiar themes with a spirited
take on the clichés of redneck Southern living: the Wal-Mart culture, the subtle
and overt racism and the indignant religion. The novel concludes with a final,
dramatic disclosure, though the payoff isn’t the plot twist but rather Jackson’s
genuine affection for the people and places of Dixie. Copyright © Reed Business
Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Now doesn’t that sound good? Now imagine you’re from Alabama, lived there for the first 27 years of your life, and have now been living in South Dakota for the past 6 years? Doesn’t it sound great? Well, it is. The story alternates between the present and the past and hits both perfectly. Somehow she manages to tell you what happened and still keep you in suspense about.. what happened. The characters are great including the character of Alabama itself. I loved so many of the scenes with Burr and her family, Jackson totally nails the old home racism. Arlene has promised God she won’t lie and some of the ways she gets around that are amazing. (Yes, I realize the author had plenty of time to think of creative ways of NOT lying. I’m still impressed.)
If you want a sneak peak, you can follow this link and read the first chapter at Amazon.com. I recommend that you do, and then, buy the book and read the rest. This is such a great debut book, once again I am amazed at what authors seem to have in their heads, just waiting to be written into a book. I have her second book (Between, Georgia ) sitting on my shelves, and I think I might just read it next!
You can see the other TBR Day participants here.