Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BETWEEN, GEORGIA by JOSHILYN JACKSON

Feuds have fascinated humanity for as long as history has been recorded. From the ancient Greeks through the Bible and on to The Godfather, it's all about honor--personal, familial, professional--and protecting that honor. Daytime soap operas and Friday Night Smackdowns are full of juicy, delicious feuds. Just as nineteenth century readers avidly followed newspaper coverage of the Hatfield-McCoy saga, so contemporary readers follow feuding hip hop stars and teen celebrities. And how about those Hatfields and McCoys? We can thank them, in large part, for that staple of American culture, the Southern Gothic.


In Between, Georgia, which could be called Gothic Lite, the feuding families are the Fretts and the Crabtrees. One family is upstanding, upright, and uptight, the other peopled by flaming tempered ne'er do wells. Both, though, are quirky and eccentric enough to embarrass or frustrate even the most loving, loyal, and family-oriented of offspring.


Nonny Frett, who narrates Between, Georgia, has the dubious luck to be the offspring of both these families. She's a Crabtree by birth, the daughter of fifteen year old Hazel, but has called Stacia Frett "mama" since she was born. When Hazel Crabtree knocks hysterically on Bernese Frett's door in the middle of the night, in labor, the book is truly off and running, and we know exactly what the story will be like. No please, no thank you, just "Get it out of me" and "Don't tell my mama" and "I hate you." Bernese Frett, the oldest of the three Frett sisters and an RN (and ever the pragmatist) delivers the baby. Her sister Stacia, deaf since birth and slowly going blind from a congenital disease, falls immediately in love with the baby and adopts her.


Thirty years later, Nonny's living in Athens, Georgia, working as an interpreter for the deaf and divorcing her musician husband. She's been pulled in all directions for most of her life by love of her true family, the Fretts and the desire of her birth family to pull her into their fold. Over the course of one weekend the action escalates, as Bernese Frett and Ona Crabtree kick the feud into frighteningly high gear.


Although there's drunken violence, dead animals, and a horrible fire, Between, Georgia is a romantic comedy at heart. The characters are extreme but believable. Nonny's suitors are both gorgeous and hot and flawed, and the reader truly understands why she's having so much trouble taking the final step with her horn-dog of a husband. Both the Fretts and the Crabtrees are interesting and, in some (little) way sympathetic.

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