Between, Georgia — Joshilyn Jackson

[asa left]0446524425[/asa] Back in April I posted a review of Jackson’s first novel, gods in Alabama. Which I found very engagine and worth reading, though it wasn’t without flaw.

I’ve just finished her second novel, Between, Georgia and I’m really pleased to report that this story is as engaging as the first one, and more solidly put together.

Like the author’s first novel, the primary focus of Between, Georgia is the narrator’s relationship with her female relatives and the greater context of the tiny Georgia town where they all live in anything but peace. The narrator is Nonny, thirty years old, on the brink of divorcing a charming but morally challenged husband. If only she could stay out of his bed. Nonny is an interesting, strong character with an engaging voice but she also has a lot of trouble making up her mind. Not because she’s flighty. That role will be taken up by the priceless Amber DeClue, who at one point shouts “I’ve got to go iron my hair!”

Nonny’s personal demons follow from her unusual history: she was born to Hazel Crabtree, the teenage single daughter of the Crabtree matriarch, but adopted by Stacia Frett (also single) and raised by Stacia, her twin sister Jenny and her older sister Bernese.

The Fretts have money, maintain their property meticulously, and work hard. The Crabtrees are every bad thing you’ve ever heard about white trash. The Crabtrees are sturdy and fearless; Nonny’s adoptive mother Stacia was born deaf, and will lose her sight by age thirty. Her twin Genny has escaped this fate, but she is anxious to the point of crippling neurosis. ((Hazel Crabtree is Nonny’s birth mother. The Crabtree clan is big and healthy, but morally corrupt in a variety of ways. Stacia Frett is Nonny’s adoptive mother. Stacia has Usher’s syndrome (born deaf; going blind); and her twin is psychologically very fragile. But the Fretts (at least these two) are solid in every way that counts.))

There’s no question about which female in Nonny’s life has the strongest and truest heart: her connection to her adoptive mother is rock solid but rocky enough to be believable, and above all things, tender.

This novel has a lot of plot, but it’s very well handled, everything braided together in an interesting and not always predictable pattern. I never lost track of the many characters, and I was interested in all of them. There is a small but very compelling romance tucked in here as well, and we watch Nonny trying to work up the resolve to end her troubled marriage and the courage to take what is being offered to her by another, far more worthy guy.

If I had any reservations about the story, which involves everything from raising butterflies to the social intracies of American Sign Language, it had to do with the incident that puts a match to the Frett-Crabtree fuse. The Crabtrees have an autoparts yard, and in the yard they have three Dobermans who have been poorly trained. Somebody does a bad job of locking a gate and one of the dogs attacks poor nervous Genny, coming just short of killing her before help arrives.

One of the Fretts retaliates by shooting the dog in question. There is a fraught negotiation between Nonny and Ona, the grandmother who wanted to raise her and has been frustrated in her attempts to gain Nonny’s love. Nonny wants Ona to give the two remaining dogs away before Genny gets out of the hospital; Ona uses this as a way to manipulate both Nonny and Bernese, her arch enemy.

Maybe you don’t see some logical flaws in this, but I do. And they bothered me, but not enough to ruin the story for me. In fact I have been thinking about this story a great deal, wondering about the characters, what happens with them after the novel closes. Wondering about Stacia, who suffers a loss of objects crucially important to her, but who goes on (as Nonny points out) to live a rich life from what is left to her, something she knows how to do very well.

This was a great story, and I look forward to more from Joshilyn Jackson.