Monday, June 17, 2013

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Gods In Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Published: April 2005 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: this audio book is mine, bought at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, never fornicate outside of marriage, and never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old schoolmate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene’s African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he’s gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption--and love.

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. 
My Thoughts: 
I know Jackson is a huge favorite of many readers so even though I didn't love Jackson's Backseat Saints (although looking back at my review, it's kind of hard to tell how ambivalent I was about it), I decided to give her another chance when I found a copy of Gods In Alabama. That opening paragraph held promise and, throughout the book, Jackson's writing brings the South alive.

Unfortunately, also almost from the start, I was put off by the narration. Catherine Taber reads well enough and is Southern. The story switches between 1997 and 1985 and Taber's voice seemed much better suited to 1985 16-year-old Arlene than to 28-year-old Lena who has spent the last ten years living in Chicago.

My bigger problem with the book was the question of what Jackson was trying to show her readers. In Arlene, Jackson wants us to see that people should be forgiven for past sins and that people can change. But the entire story is built around a murder committed and a rape. We're meant to believe that the murder can be forgiven because it was justified but that the rape could not be and that the rapist would never have changed. Before you get your feminist panties in a bunch, believe me, I'm the first person to say that if someone raped my daughter, it's entirely possible I could become a murderer. And the emotional side of me would say it was entirely justified but the rational side of me would say that the murder doesn't erase the rape. I get it, I get it - it's Southern Gothic. It's meant to be dark. I can handle dark in my books. What I can't accept is a book that tries to convince me that one sin can be forgiven if it's done in the name of love.

There were elements of the book I did appreciate, the discussion of race relations in the South, the discussion of what makes a family, and the effects of mental illness. So, Jackson may yet get another shot to win me over. But perhaps not on audio.

**June Is Audiobook Month**


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