The Great American Road Trip
Book: Gods in Alabama (2005) by Joshilyn Jackson
There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.
Sorry, guys, but this book is going to quack like Chick Lit to you. The retelling of a road trip that more or less proves that you CAN go home again, centers on the relationship between two women, and mothers play the supporting roles. If that does not cinch the deal, be further warned that a great deal of the book takes place in flashbacks to high school, which definitely does not make it teen chick lit.
While the women are interesting characters, the author has made the supporting role of boyfriend to Arlene, the main character, perfect waaay beyond belief. One other male character only appears in the high school scenes and the other shuffles on as a sweet contrast to his strong wife, Lena’s Aunt.
Gods in Alabama weaves a suspenseful tale that explains why Arlene (or Lena her up-north-in-Chicago name) has refused to return to her home town in Alabama for more than ten years before she makes this life-changing road trip. The author explains the motivation with a plot structure that double dares you to figure out how it is going to end. Jackson mixes humor with a deeper purpose of investigating the meaning of truth in the midst of Bible Belt mores.
I read this first novel because of a suggestion from Twitter. (In the 5 years since it was published, Joshilyn Jackson has published three more novels, one of them a mirror image of this one.)While I am not as enthusiastic as the person who recommended it, I breezed through and frequently laughed out loud at either the self deceptive contortions of Lena or the revealing attitudes of her small town family members. The recreation of small town family doin’s made for a good stop on our Road Trip through the South.
The thing that I found most distracting about Gods in Alabama (which definitely has the best opening sentence I have read in a long time–see opening of this post), was the perfection of Lena’s boyfriend, Burr. In Lena’s family’s eyes, Burr is a lawyer (good), a Baptist (good), an American Baptist rather than a Southern Baptist (bad) and black (unforgiveable). Whether to ameliorate Lena’s family or to toe the politically correct line, author Jackson creates a man without personal flaws. (Unless, of course, you are a Southern Baptist). Setting him down next to the neurotic and seriously misbehaving Lena or her whacked out family makes it even more obvious that he is not a real person, but a foil.
But then, you shouldn’t pick too hard at a boiled-frosting-topped chocolate cake or the whole thing will collapse. Just enjoy the visit to rural Alabama, say your prayers, sip your sweet tea, and eat your cake. But this being Joshilyn Jackson, watch out for what’s hidden in the cake.
Remember to check out the Musical road trip at Music Road, where Kerry Dexter always has something interesting for our ears while we’re on the road.
Thanks for sticking around the Library while I’m on a road trip of mine own. Since I won’t be here to keep reminding people to read A Traveler’s Library, I would consider it a real big favor, if you would please remind people for me. Just use one of those buttons below, post it on Twitter or Stumble Upon, or e-mail a few friends. Thanks!