Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gods in Alabama - Joshilyn Jackson

Gods in Alabama
Arlene Fleet is a graduate student in Chicago, Illinois, who suspects that her boyfriend is about to propose to her...until he overhears a phone conversation with her aunt and suspects that she might be ashamed of him, as she's never taken him home to meet her family.  He demands that she attend the party her aunt is trying to harangue her into going home for, and that she take him with her.  A fight ensues.  In the midst of it, a girl from Arlene's Alabama hometown shows up on Arlene's doorstep asking questions about a guy named Jim Beverly, and suddenly the book isn't a romantic comedy anymore, because Arlene knows exactly where--or, more accurately, what--Jim Beverly is, and that's dead.  The rest of the book follows Arlene and Burr as they head down to Alabama to throw Rose Mae off Jim's trail, though Burr doesn't know that's the real purpose of the trip.  Arlene is trying to work up the guts to tell him, but faced with everything against her, it's not exactly easy.

I thought I was absolutely going to love this book up until the last chapter.  Five stars, all the way.  The writing is phenomenal, and I can completely imagine Arlene, her crazy family, Rose Mae Lolley, Burr, and the small town of Possett, Alabama.  I loved the multi-faceted way in which she portrayed not only Arlene, the grad student, good Southern Baptist girl, slut, and murderer, but also Jim Beverly, who could protect his girlfriend from her abusive father and usher a girl to the nurse's office so she doesn't have to be embarrassed by having blood all over her pants, but also turn into a violent drunk.  Arlene and Burr's relationship was very real, with conflicts and bumps and moments when you think it might be over, but always lasting because they really and truly do know each other.  I loved the way Burr dealt with Arlene's crazy, mostly-racist family, and I was really loving the book in general.

And then there was that last chapter.  See, in the last chapter, Jackson pretty much unravels the gorgeous narrative she had built up until that point.  I was expecting a House of Sand and Fog-type ending, and I would have been okay with that.  That's not the way this goes, though.  In the end, everyone gets away with what they've done, Jim is a monster after all, Arlene and her family are reconciled, and she and Burr presumably live happily ever after.  It's just too perfect.  Murder doesn't end that way.  Or, it does, sometimes, but very, very rarely.  Arlene & Co. are just primed to be starring on an episode of Cold Case 25 years from now.  That last chapter knocked a couple of stars off my rating of this one.  A more "flawed" ending for Arlene & Co. would have been more satisfying, I think; heart-wrenching, yes, but I think Jackson could have pulled it off if she tried.  She just didn't try.

2.5 stars.

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