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gods in Alabama    by Joshilyn Jackson order for
gods in Alabama
by Joshilyn Jackson
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

If your extended family ever starts getting you down, I have the perfect cure - gods in Alabama. Its premise and humor will suck you in like a whirlpool and keep you chuckling as it sets your mind spinning.

The opening gives a good idea of Arlene Fleet's upbringing - 'There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.' Arlene left her family in Possett twelve years before, and now is a grad student in Chicago, where she's re-invented herself as Lena. Her new life includes her boyfriend (and best friend) Burr, a black lawyer, who is remarkably patient with her occasional craziness. We wonder why Lena left Possett and the family that she still calls weekly. That curiosity fuels the reader's interest.

Lena is an engaging character, likeable despite the nuttiness of many of her actions (as when she shinnies up a tree on campus to avoid the questions of her old schoolmate, Rose Mae Lolley) and the way she always tells the truth, yet avoids full disclosure. Her family's pressure on her to return for uncle Bruster's retirement party is supported by Burr's need for her to show commitment to their relationship. Though terrified to return to Possett, Lena is even more scared of losing Burr. They drive south together to meet her rather racist family (she's neglected to mention Burr's skin color to them).

Early on, Lena lets the reader in on the fact that she killed someone back in Possett when she was fifteen. The story moves back and forth in time, elaborating on her early life, her love for her Aunt Flo and cousin Clarice, and on the circumstances (including a rape) that led to the violence, and left a strong guilt-induced stamp on her personality. Lena has learned to always reveal just enough so that others fill in the gaps with their own assumptions. We see those gaps filled by different folk in different versions of what happened, as the story develops.

I enjoyed gods in Alabama very much as a tale of the ties that bind family, of secrets and the damage that they cause, and of the steely strength that underlies the grace of Southern women (of women everywhere, for that matter) when it comes to those they love.

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