"There are Gods in Alabama...Jack Daniels, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and Jesus."
"There are Gods in Alabama...I know because I killed one."
Opening lines just don't get any better than this. And books don't get any better than this. Obviously Jackson learned her lessons well in Writing 101 where you hook the reader from the first sentence, and reel them in over the duration of the story.
Her debut novel, "Gods in Alabama" is proof.
Arlene Fleet made a deal with God. If He would allow her to escape with her life and freedom after a tragic event that took place her senior year in high school (we assume it has something to do with this killing thing she talks about in the beginning), she would leave her hometown in Alabama and never come back. She would give up sex. She would never tell a lie. And she made good on this promise for ten years. Until the past catches up with her and drags her back to the Ground Zero of her formative years.
So Arlene heads to Alabama and her Southern Baptist (and unapologetically racist) family with her boyfriend, who just happens to be black. She flashes back to a childhood where she lost her father, was ignored by a depressed, drugged out mother, and was raised by her hard-nosed aunt. With perfect pacing and increasing tension, she recounts the events that led up to the irreversible destruction of her childhood.
As I read back over my sparse synopsis, I realize this sounds all a bit depressing. Arlene's life WAS depressing, but instead of dragging the reader down into a common dysfunctional muck, Jackson instead embraces the Southern Way...throw humor at it. Channeling Mary Karr's voice in "The Liar's Club", Arlene reflects on her life with refreshing honesty and a tough, wise-crack exterior.
But aren't there ten million books out there about crappy childhoods and confronting ghosts? Yes, there are, and I get tired of them. But somehow Jackson has differentiated herself from the masses by her unique and achingly human characters. Characters that play quirky games with each other, or that climb a tree to get away from a prodding school classmate. It's these little things that make a book so unforgettable. I will never forget Arlene and her boyfriend playing a complicated guessing game they call "What have I got in my pocketses", which is a tribute to Gollum in The Hobbit. And I will never forget those opening lines.
I had heard that Joshilyn Jackson narrates her own audios, however she did not narrate this one. Instead it was Catherine Taber, who did an excellent job, with her sweet, lilting Southern voice. I have Backseat Saints locked and loaded on my iPod, and Jackson does narrate that one. It is high on my list of audios. In fact, all of Jackson's work is now on this list
4.5 out of 5 stars