Monday, June 28, 2010

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Arlene Fleet flees Possett, Alabama and its gods--"Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus"--as soon as she graduates from high school.  She goes as far as she can get--or, at least, as far as a college scholarship will take her, which is to Chicago, where she reinvents herself as Lena and tries to forget her past.  But biweekly phone calls from her crazy mother and the stern aunt who raised her don't help.  And, in the end, you can't really flee who you are.

An invitation she can't refuse, to her uncle Bruster's retirement party, sends Lena back to Possett, where she stirs things up for others--by bringing her Black fiance, Burr.  But once there, Arlene must also confront her past, and her reasons for leaving Possett.  

gods in Alabama is both dark--with themes of rape, murder, and insanity--and funny.  Joshilyn Jackson writes nicely, seamlessly moving between Lena's polished academic Chicago style of speech and Arlene's Alabama vernacular, which she slips naturally into upon crossing the border.  A quick but satisfying story of family and personal redemption.

Try Anne Rivers Siddons or Dorothea Benton Frank, also writing contemporary fiction set in the American South.  And, of course, there's the master of the contemporary Southern Gothic, Pat Conroy, whose most well-known title is probably The Prince of Tides.  All of his stuff is just wonderful, though, including his most recent, South of Broad, the story of a group of friends, white and black, growing up together.

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