Friday, April 15, 2011

A Review of "gods in Alabama" [26]

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Hachette Audio, ISBN 978-1594832949
Unabridged edition (July 3, 2006)

"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. "
What in the heck was I doing, going to the library, to borrow the audio book of gods in Alabama?
See, first, I don't like audiobooks, right?.
Second, I have a huge number of books that I should be reading already. I do not need any more books at the moment. Or this year.
And third, and maybe worse, when I went to enter it into my Library Thing database, what did I discover but that I already own a copy of this

Well, never mind. I borrowed it, I listened to it and I loved it.

Arlene Fleet, called Lena now, made a deal with God almost a dozen years ago. She promised that she would shop being a slut, fornicating with every guy in her high school class. She would stop lying. She would, upon her graduation, leave her hometown, never to return.
All she wanted from God in return was a miracle. Ok, it was a pretty big miracle, making a dead body disappear and all,  but when He seemed to have granted it, a deal was made.

Now, it is about 10 years after her graduation and she is living in Chicago, a university graduate student, teaching, with a boyfriend of two years, a lawyer named Burr. While she talks to her family every week, her aunt and uncle who took her and her mother in when her mom went off the deep end after her father's death, and her cousin Charline, who is like a sister to her, she has never been home since the day she graduated. Or told a lie..or had sex. A life not without it problems, but one she is willingly living. To keep her secret, to keep her deal with God.

Until a girl from her past shows up on Lena's front door, looking for an ex-boyfriend they went to school with, the high school quarterback named Jim Beverly. That is so not going to happen, because he is the dead body that was at the center of that deal she made with God. But with that visitor, Lena considers that God has broken His end of the bargain, and being push by her boyfriend to finally meet her family, and the need to get the story straight with her cousin before the secret comes bursting out, she and Burr are on the way to Alabama to meet the folks. Oh, did I mention that she is white and Burr is black? Oh, this is going to be interesting!

And it is.
At time this book is very funny, at times it is a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes and at times it is very sweet and moving. Maybe half the book is told in the present and the rest in flashbacks, Arlene's recollections. Slowly, piece by piece, she tells us how she came to this point in her life, slowing revealing her story, as layered and as full of hidden secrets as the always present piles of kudzu that dot her Alabama landscape. We think we know what happened, and in a way we do, but we find it is much more complicated...and much more interesting.

The book is full of great characters, each written so well that they will become quite real for the reader and by the surprising ending we can not help but like them, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Arlene is a hoot, making us laugh one minute and breaking our heart the next. Burr is excellent, always having her back, but never letting her get away with anything. And then we have the Alabama relatives, who may end up surprising you and will always hold your attention. At the end of the book you will hate to say goodbye to them all I think.
Arlene reminds us that Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain, but by the end of the book we also discover that love can move mountains too and overcome obstacles that might seem to be unconquerable.

As I mentioned, I 'read' the audio version of this book and once again, it was a good experience. I am no great judge of audiobook readers, but in my opinion Catherine Taber did a fine job. Her accent, how she changes her voice for each characters, even subtly changing it when portraying the characters in the present and when younger, always seemed genuine and never overdone. My one complaint with this edition would be the short bursts of background music that appeared from time to time, unnecessary and rather distracting, but it is a very minor issue.

This was, when it was published, Ms. Jackson's debut novel, but it will certainly not be her last one I read.


  1. How did I not know that this was a mystery - a funny mystery to be sure, but a mystery? Thaks for sharing your experience with GODS IN ALABAMA. I know that I will need to add this one to my list.

  2. PRAISE JESUS! You don't know how much this just made my day. An audio! And you liked it! It was an excellent audio, and probably my favorite of the three Jackson audios I've listened to. In all the other ones, the author actually narrates, and she is really good. This was so much more than a "women's fiction" book, and in that way she really reminds me of Marisa de los Santos. (Which are incredible audios as well.) I could just burst with pride.

    One thing I'll never forget from this book...what have I got in my pocketses?

  3. I loved this too! And you will love also Between, Georgia because it is so Jackson-esque...

  4. that may have to be my next to check if my library has it.

    Sandy, I am so glad I made you happy...because it was your ceaseless posts about the wonders that are audiobooks that convonced me to give them a try. And I believe it was a review of another of jackson's books that made me check out this one. :-)

  5. I have to tell you that I lived in Alabama when I read that book and the opening line is absolutely true and perfect. I loved the book and just happen to be hosting a giveaway for its companion book - The Backseat Saints.

  6. I never heard of the book until now. It sounds like a fun read. Glad you enjoyed it, now you put me in the mood to listen to one of my audio books.

  7. This was the first Joshilyn Jackson I read (and like you it was the audio edition) but I liked it so much I grab anything she writes and bump it right up to the top of the pile. THe books and the audios are all outstanding. I often recommend them to people who claim they "don't like audios." So glad you had such a positive experience.

  8. I'm listening to this now...and I agree with you about the music bits. I'm about halfway through and I keep wondering "what else is Arlene hiding from me?" I had listened to Backseat Saints before this...which tells Rose May Lolley's story so that would be a good follow up read/listen to this book. And this is one author I think that works better on audio because of the unique character voices.

  9. well, there are a few secrets...and they aren't all Arlene's.


please speak up, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!!