gods in Alabama

gods in Alabama is Joshilyn Jackson’s first novel. The whole package, as you can see, is meant to give you the sense of a fun southern girl out for a good time. That’s what I expected, at any rate. I picked it up because I knew the author is a southerner, and I’m making a short and sweet study of modern southern authors’ narrative voices. To be truthful, I didn’t have high expectations.

gods in Alabama isn’t without flaw — one  in particular that I’ll mention briefly. But it is a well told, engaging story, complex in interesting ways. The main character — Arlene to her family, Lena to her boyfriend — tells her story with passion that stays clear of the pathetic. Arlene has been living and going to school in Chicago for ten years — she left Alabama immediately after high school and made a promise to God that she’d never return. God seemed satisfied with that, but Arlene’s Aunt Florence was not. Pressured on one side by her aunt and on the otherside by her boyfriend (it’s time for her to make a commitment, and introduce him to her family), and shocked by the sudden appearance of a old nemesis at her door, Arlene and Burr head south.

The story of how she came to make such sweeping promises to God comes out in bits, of course, sometimes funny, sometimes moving. Arlene’s secrets take a couple of turns in the telling, some of them unexpected. The story is on one level about Arlene’s relationship with Burr, but the lion’s share of the conflict is her relationship to the women in her family. There’s a good dose of moral ambiguity to deal with here, which brings me to the flaw I mentioned.

There’s a strong urge, when you’re writing a complicated story, to tie up all the loose ends. Answer all the questions about what happened to who when and how. Jackson gives into that temptation (in my opinion) a little too much. There are a series of plot twists toward the end of the novel, one of which went just a bit too far, and strained my credibility almost to the breaking point. I have the sense that Jackson felt this last twist was necessary in order to cement the bond between Arlene and one of her female relatives.

It is a great story and so the book is certainly worth reading, so if you do, come back here and talk to me about that final twist. I’d be interested in other people’s opinions.