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Gods in Alabama (Jackson) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Arlene Fleet, the refreshingly imperfect heroine of Jackson's frank, appealing debut, launches her story with a list of the title's deities: "high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus." The first god, also a date rapist by the name of Jim Beverly, she left dead in her hometown of Possett, Ala., but the last she embraces wholeheartedly when high school graduation allows her to flee the South, the murder and her slutty reputation for a new life in Chicago. Upon leaving home, Arlene makes a bargain with God, promising to forgo sex, lies and a return home if he keeps Jim's body hidden. After nine years in Chicago as a truth-telling celibate, an unexpected visitor from home (in search of Jim Beverly) leads her to believe that God is slipping on his end of the deal. As Arlene heads for the Deep South with her African-American boyfriend, Burr, in tow, her secrets unfold in unsurprising but satisfying flashbacks. Jackson brings levity to familiar themes with a spirited take on the clichés of redneck Southern living: the Wal-Mart culture, the subtle and overt racism and the indignant religion. The novel concludes with a final, dramatic disclosure, though the payoff isn't the plot twist but rather Jackson's genuine affection for the people and places of Dixie.
Publishers Weekly


Forget steel magnolias-meet titanium blossoms in Jackson's debut novel, a potent mix of humor, murder, and a dysfunctional Southern family. After high school, Arlene Fleet left tiny Possett, AL, for Chicago, vowing never to return. Despite pleas over the decade to come home, Arlene reconsiders only after a sudden visit from a former classmate. In chapters alternating between 1997 and 1985, the story of what prompted the murder of a football hero in Arlene's hometown unfolds tantalizingly. Arlene's not a saint (even if she has made three vows to God), but is she a murderer? Abrlene's boyfriend, Burr, is a saint—he's a black man willing to tolerate her bigoted relatives while also honoring her unusual pact with God (which doesn't, by the way, exclude swearing). While written for adults, this novel reminds us again that the teenage subculture is complex and powerful and that unholy acts may be committed in the name of love. Recommended for most collections. —Rebecca Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights
Library Journal


Arlene Fleet likes to make deals with God and play road-trip games. In this absorbing first novel, deals and games guide all the characters' actions, but the reader won't know the real deal or the name of the game until the last page.... Cleverly disguised as a leisurely paced southern novel, this debut rockets to the end, even as the plot turns back on itself, surprising characters and readers alike. Book clubs will enjoy this saucy tale, as will fans of southern fiction with a twist. —Kaite Mediatore
Booklist


Date-rape and murder color the life of a high-school sophomore. Years later, she returns to her hometown to exorcise the demons, in a first novel based on delayed revelations. Sophomore Arlene Fleet made a deal with God. She would stop being a slut, never lie or fornicate again, and leave town for good after graduation. All He had to do was hide the body of the boy she'd killed. True to her word, Arlene left tiny Possett, Ala., in 1987 and hightailed it to Chicago, for Jim Beverly had indeed vanished without a trace. Ten years later, Arlene is still in Chicago, a teacher and a Ph.D. candidate with a steady boyfriend, Burr. Then Jim's old girlfriend, Rose Mae Lolley, materializes on Arlene's doorstep, and Arlene realizes she must return to Alabama for damage control. In chapters that from this point on alternate between the present and the past, Arlene is an engaging narrator whom we want to trust, though that can be difficult. Take the murder. Jim, the heartthrob quarterback, had behaved horribly to Clarice, Arlene's lovely cousin (the girls are as close as sisters). Arlene had pursued the sloppy-drunk Jim and knocked him out with his tequila bottle. Had one blow really killed him? Why wasn't his body ever found? Why has it taken ten years for Rosa Mae to get on the case? There are questions in the present, too. Because of her "no fornication" pledge to God, Arlene's two-year relationship with Burr has been touchy-feely but not sexual. Just how credible is that? Arlene and Burr drive down to Alabama to visit with Arlene's formidable Aunt Florence, who raised her after her father died and her mother sank into a permanent, pill-popping depression. The homecoming is frosty, for Burr is blackand Florence is a dyed-in-the-wool racist. But racial tensions take a back seat to a minute reconstruction of the past and a final Southern Gothic flourish. A likable new talent chained to a creaky old plot.
Kirkus Reviews




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