Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gods in Alabama

I happened to pick up Gods in Alabama while browsing the shelves of a bookstore the other day and, as I almost always do with a book, I opened it to the first page to check out its first paragraph. That paragraph made me so curious about the rest of the book that I had to take it home with me:
"THERE ARE GODS in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches."
Those are the words of Arlene Fleet, a 27-year old Alabama girl who made a deal with God when she was 15 and who fled Possett, Alabama, two years later for a new life in Chicago. All God had to do was perform the miracle of making sure that the body of the star quarterback that Arlene killed was never found. If God pulled that one off, Arlene promised a three-for-one return on the miracle: no more sex outside of marriage; no more lying under any circumstances; and never, ever, to return to Possett, Alabama. Arlene thought that God "made out pretty well" in the deal.

It wasn't easy for Arlene to adapt to the people and the big city lifestyle of Chicago but the city eventually served her well. It provided her with an education, a teaching job while she worked on her Ph.D., and a steady black boyfriend who was the son of the former preacher of the Southern Baptist church she attended there. But, as Arlene sees it, God slipped up by allowing the dead quarterback's high school girlfriend, Rose Mae Lolley, to show up in Chicago full of questions for Arlene about the former football star. So, black boyfriend in tow, Arlene Fleet returns to Possett, Alabama, for her uncle's retirement celebration and to confront all the ghosts of her past.

Joshilyn Jackson's chapters alternate between what Arlene finds upon her return to Alabama and the life that she lived there as a young girl, a life that culminated in the death of high school star Jim Beverly. This is a darkly comic novel and I often laughed out loud at the sarcastic observations of Southern life as seen through the eyes of Arlene Fleet. It is a good story, and despite its comic nature, it is filled with observations about right and wrong, human nature, and growing up in a change-resisting South. My only quarrel with the novel is that I found two or three of the characters to be unrealistic and, in the case of Arlene's black boyfriend, to be too good to be true. I had somewhat of a problem with Arlene herself, wondering the whole time that I read, how a young woman could go through life without being more scarred by the thought that she had purposely killed a high school classmate.

But the novel is largely saved by an ending that caught me completely by surprise and by its numerous laugh-out-loud one-liners. This one is fun and I'm happy that I didn't let my fear that it would be "chick lit" cause me to miss it.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. This sounds interesting-thanks for the heads up. :)

    I've often wondered how I would react to killing someone, and I think I would just repress it. Maybe Arlene did the same thing....pretended it was a dream. That might've prevented the scarring.

    Oh, and I'll be adding you to my blogroll-your site looks to be just my style. :)

  2. You may be right, Eva. I don't suppose any of us will ever know how a murder, even one that is justifiable, would affect us unless it really happens to us. I suppose there is a whole range of possible emotional reactions but, based on the character as she was developed, it just didn't ring entirely true to me.

    Thanks for the link, too...much appreciated.