Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gods in Alabama - Joshilyn Jackson (audio)


"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




15 comments:

farmlanebooks said...

I have a copy of this, but I have no idea why I bought it. I'm sure someone else must have raved about it in the past, but I have forgotten who :-( It is good to know that it is still worth me owning it and that I should get it off my shelf at some point.

JoAnn said...

That IS a great opening!! I'm adding it to my list.

bermudaonion said...

I read this book the last time we lived in Alabama and I have to tell you that the opening line is true and perfect. I loved the book and didn't see the twist that's in it coming.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Actually your initial summary didn't sound depressing to me at all. It sounds really great! And you know I love mysteries and twists! Must read!

S. Krishna said...

This one has been on my list for a very long time. Maybe I'll try it in audio!

Kaye said...

Great review, Sandy! If you haven't read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming yet, please do. Such an excellent read. Jackson's voice is unique, no doubt about it. I've had this one on the tbr list forever - may just have to bump it up a notch.

Kathleen said...

Hard for me to resist those opening lines!

Jo-Jo said...

This sounds like it would have been a great audio. I'm listening to Backseat Saints now that is narrated by Jackson and I'm loving it. I think I could listen to her voice all day!

Zibilee said...

Ok, how can I not want to read this one when it has a first line like that?!? I haven't read anything by Jackson, but I have been hearing great things about Backyard Saints, and after reading this review, I am starting to think I need to read them both. I am so glad that this book hooked you and that it was such a satisfying read for you. I am going to have to see how quickly I can add this one to my collection, so thank you very much!

Jenners said...

That is a awesome first line! I read her book "The Girl Who Stopped Swimming" and enjoyed it but everyone says that this one and Backseat Saints is even better!

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

OK. Those opening lines just reeled me in.....

Alice Teh said...

I want this! I want this! I think this is a great book for my American Journey reading challenge. I'm still at Alabama at the moment.

Literary Feline said...

I've had this book on my shelf forever and a day. I've read so many mixed reviews of this one, but am so glad you liked it, Sandy. Hopefully I'll get to it one day soon.

Julie P. said...

Isn't Joshilyn Jackson the best? I've just finished my first audio book. Maybe I should try one of hers next.

Melissa M said...

I listened to my first Jackson book (The Girl Who Stopped Swimming) a while ago and LOVED it. I have others of hers in print that I need to get to soon!