Backseat Saints (Jackson) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The subject of Joshilyn Jackson's powerful new novel is wife-beating. The beatings are rendered so graphically and mercilessly that you can't help being both sickened and mesmerized, and the story line is set up so that either the husband or the wife will have to die if their awful conflict is to end. This isn't a Gothic tale, but an ultra-realistic domestic drama narrated by a Southern housewife who spends her time between beatings making meatloaf and sweet tea…[Jackson] is an expert at manipulating intricacies of plot.
Carolyn See - Washington Post


Readers willing to stick through a slow beginning will be rewarded in Jackson's eventually riveting fourth novel (after The Girl Who Stopped Swimming). When abused Rose Grandee isn't getting up the nerve to do something about her violent husband, Thom, she reminisces about high school sweetheart Jim Beverly, who once promised to kill Rose's alcoholic father. Rose is also consumed with memories of her mother, who abandoned her when she was a little girl. During what seems like a chance meeting, Rose receives a tarot card reading and is told she'll have to choose between her husband's life and her own, though Rose later realizes, conveniently for the plot, that the card reader is her estranged mother. Egged on by the prophecy, Rose searches out Jim and plans on manipulating him into killing Thom, leading to a tense final section that crescendos with an ending appropriate for a woman with so much fight in her. Though Jackson does a good job conveying Rose's uncertainty and ambivalence, the initial sounding of these themes comes off as redundant and overly long; later, Jackson's writing becomes kinetic, reflecting her heroine's metamorphosis.
Publishers Weekly


On the surface, she's Ro Grandee, dutiful wife of a handsome Texan with ready fists. But underneath her flowery skirts and painful bruises lurks Rose Mae, a fierce Southern spitfire who's already escaped an abusive father. These days Rose seems resigned to taking punches, working in the Grandee family gun shop, and waltzing with the vacuum cleaner until an oddly familiar airport gypsy foretells a fortune that is murder—literally. Rose's husband is going to kill her, unless she manages to kill him first. Rose takes her dog, Gretel, and her Pawpy's old gun and runs for her life, blazing a harrowing trail from Texas to Alabama and on to California and exhuming a heap of family skeletons along the way. Verdict: Jackson has resurrected a character from her best-selling gods in Alabama and crafted a riveting read that simply flies off the page with prose as luscious as sweet tea and spicy as Texas chili. Fans of Southern fare as varied as Sue Monk Kidd, Dorothy Allison, and Michael Lee West are sure to love it. —Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Library Journal


(Starred review.) Jackson’s absorbing and rewarding fourth novel spotlights Rose Mae Lolly, a minor character from her popular debut, Gods in Alabama (2005). Rose is now living under the thumb of her abusive husband and his domineering father.... Jackson peels back Rose’s hard edges and resignation to reveal a smart, earnest, brave, and surprisingly hopeful young woman who yearns to make a better life for herself. Rose’s salvation, when it comes, is positively breathtaking. —Kristine Huntley
Booklist


An oddly cheerful story about two generations of battered wives who eventually fight back. Jackson (The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, 2008, etc.) briefly introduced Rose Mae Lolley in her first novel Gods of Alabama when she came to Chicago looking for a high-school sweetheart ten years after he disappeared. Here Rose Mae takes center stage. Having run away from Alabama as a teen to escape her abusive father, she has ended up in Texas as Ro, married to equally abusive husband Thom Grandee. Given Ro's spunk and charisma, her elderly neighbor finds Ro's reluctance to leave Thom frustrating, but Jackson doesn't shy from showing Ro's attraction to Thom as well as her drift toward complicity in their troubled relationship. One day Ro drives her neighbor to the airport, where a "gypsy" warns her to kill Thom before he kills her. As Ro recognizes, the "gypsy" is actually her mother Claire, who long ago ran away from her own abusive marriage, though it meant leaving behind her child. Now called Mirabelle (dual names are standard in Jackson's work), Claire lives in San Francisco, where she runs a halfway house for battered wives. Prodded by her mother's warning, Ro soon reverts to her old Rose Mae identity and plans her escape from Thom. After her previously mentioned visit to Chicago and a trip back to Alabama to see her now pathetic father, she heads to California. Mother and daughter warily reunite. Rose Mae moves into the bedroom Claire has been keeping at the ready. While the women's interactions prickle with resentment and guilt, mild romantic interest crops up for Rose in the person of Claire's wispy landlord. When news comes that Thom is heading toward San Francisco, readers can assume that brutal justice is at hand. Jackson's sprightly prose and charismatic characters offer readers a rollicking good time along with the typical bromides about domestic abuses.
Kirkus Reviews

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