June 19, 2007

gods in Alabama

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 6/10/07
Rating: 3/5
Southern Reading Challenge #1

From the Publisher:

When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, never fornicate outside of marriage, and never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old schoolmate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene’s African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he’s gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption--and love.


When it became obvious I wasn't going to nap, Burr began a game of What Have I Got in My Pocketses that lasted us all the way to Nashville. This was a game we'd invented, and we played it in the car and sometimes on slow winter afternoons in front of the fireplace at his bachelor pad. We would each make up a long, complicated story. Burr usually finished his first. When he had the plot points down, he would tell me half the story and give me some background on the characters so I knew who was who. The catch was, the stories were always told backwards. So Burr would start at the end and trace events back through time until he got to the middle. Then he would stop telling it and say, "What have I got in my pocketses?"

I had to listen carefully, and he had to tell a story with an ending so inevitable that I would then be able to tell him the first half of his story. Not only able to -- forced to. The end had to come out of one possible beginning.

And this is exactly the manner in which Jackson tells her tale.

I fear I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but once again I feel this is a case of a book not living up to the hype generated by fellow readers. I enjoyed parts of the story, but my overall reaction was mild disappointment. The narrative was a bit uneven and it took a long time before I started to care about any of the characters. A few readers have indicated that Jackson's second novel, Between, Georgia, is better than this debut work and while I plan to give it a try, I won't rush out and buy a copy any time soon. Having said that, I have to say I did enjoy the handful of humorous comebacks by Arlene's boyfriend. Every time I started to think about quitting the book, I'd find myself laughing out loud at Burr's dry wit, plunging back into the narrative with hopes that it'd improve. What a shame the humor was inconsistent. Overall I give it a big meh.

For those interested, Lisa over at Bluestalking Reader has posted a lovely interview with Joshilyn here.


  1. Hi Les! I gave this one a 4/5, so at the time I thought it was very good. So much of life affects our feelings about a read, but I think hype is one of the worst. Expecting something and not getting it makes for a farther fall. I hope your next read hits the spot! :)

  2. Just the publisher's note made me say, no thank you. Nice writeup, Les.

  3. I have been considering adding this one to my TBR collection because so many people have said it was worth reading--and it does sound good. I appreciate your review very much, Lesley. It will remain on my wishlist for the time being, I think. It's not as if I don't have many other books to get to first. :-)

  4. Oh no... Hmm, I have this one as one of my Summer Reading challenge books. Well, I guess I'll try it anyway and see. I'll keep you posted :)

  5. I had heard really good things about this one too, but I hesitated buying it when I saw a hardback copy on sale for 5 dollars. Now I'm glad I did. It looks readable, but nothing to get real excited about. Thanks for the excerpt and your thoughts.

  6. I almost bought this the other day at goodwill, I just wasn't sure about it.

  7. When I saw the title, I thought, "This isn't going to be one that Les loves." Funny, since I haven't read the book, that I guessed right.

    For some reason, I have a terrible time loading Lisa's blog. But, I think that same review with the author was in Estella's Revenge.

  8. I found this book for $5 in hardback in the bargain part of B & N; I might read it if I'm in the mood but it's not anywhere near the top of my TBR list.

  9. Les, Jackson was at the Winter Weekend at the Biltmore this year. I gave gods in Alabama a 4/5 and I did like between Georgia better but not enough to give it a 5/5. It is funny - as I go back and read my original notes, both books seem better than I remember them to be. Jackson gives a wonderfully funny talk to a large group but she is very cold one on one.

    I know I am out of order but I LOVED your summertime pictures too.
    I miss talking to you. Now that I am a free woman - watch out. (until September that is)

  10. Joy - It did, but just barely! ;)

    Nan - Thanks so much. You know, I didn't know a thing about the book before reading it. An online friend sent it to me and I'd heard such good things about it, I just jumped right in. Had I read the blurb first, I may have thought twice about reading the book!

    Literary Feline - I would be more than happy to send the book your way, if you'd like. I don't plan to read it again.

    Iliana - Looking forward to your thoughts!

    Kookiejar - Might be worth checking out from the library. Ya never know until you try, right?

    MyUtopia - see my note to Kookiejar. :)

    Bookfool - You know me so well! Actually, it wasn't the least bit religious. Just a bit too something.

    Katya - I think I can honestly say it's worth $5. Not much more, though!

    Janet - I remember you mentioned that Joshilyn Jackson was at the conference. Interesting that she was more personable in front of the large group, but not so one-on-one.

    I'm glad you're back in the blogosphere! You've been missed. Thanks for your sweet words about my Summertime post. It was fun to create. :)

  11. That would be great, Lesley! If it isn't any trouble for you. I could pay for postage if you want. Just let me know. I don't know if my e-mail shows up when I post to you (literaryfeline@gmail.com)--if you don't mind, send me your e-mail address and I'll give you my address.

  12. I wasn't that impressed either. I think many people who were reading her blog at the time the book came out were somewhat invested.

  13. Jenclair - I didn't even know she had a blog.

    I read the blurb for her second book and it doesn't appeal to me, so I think I can safely say I'm calling it quits on this author.


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