Monday, July 11, 2005

gods in Alabama

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

The first paragraph of Joshilyn Jackson's gods in Alabama (Warner Books, 2005) gives a succinct look into the Southern mind. This is the dark side, the side polite people don't talk about in public. Behind the so-sweet-sugar-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth Southern Belle facade lies a cast iron core, cold and dark and hard.

This debut novel tells the story of Arlene Fleet. Ten years ago, Arlene moved to Chicago and has not been home to Possett, Alabama, since. She made a deal with God: she would quit sleeping around, never go back to Possett, and never tell another lie. All God has to do is keep her secret. When Rose Mae Lolley shows up on Arlene's doorstep, though, she knows the deal is off. Now she's headed home with her fiance, who just happens to be black.

gods in Alabama is Southern Gothic at its finest. In the tradition of Faulkner, O'Connor, Welty, and Caldwell, Ms. Jackson takes her readers on a tour through the real heart of the South. In this heart of darkness, family overrides everything else, secrets stay inside the family, and vengeance is a private matter. Real people inhabit the Gothic South. People are both good and bad. Everyone has feet of clay, and the creek's rising.

Arlene's journey through Hell is a typically Southern story with universal meanings. The gods we worship can turn on us, and truth typically lies hidden under the kudzu jungle, way down in the deep green darkness between soil and sky. Getting to the truth has a price, too. Illusions are no longer useful when we see through them. Heroes are not always what they seem to be. Gods are dangerous, but killing them can cost us our souls.

gods in Alabama is a real Must Read for readers of Southern Gothic. For those who are not familiar with the genre, this is a really good place to start. The narrative style is endearing and the characters are real. I know these people. Hell, some of them are in my own family. The story is dark and illuminates many ugly things, so it is not for the easily disturbed. At the same time, it moves quickly and lightly and carries the reader along without effort. I was drawn in immediately and was disappointed to see it end. I hope to see more good things from Ms. Jackson in the future.

Joshilyn Jackson's next novel, Between, Georgia, is due out in 2006. It's going to be a long wait.

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