Book review: Gods in Alabama

Reading has slowed down considerably this month on account of several things, but I hope to get back to normal in October, particularly since I have a stack of scary, suspenseful books to read.

First, a word about Joshilyn Jackson. If I were to analogize my own writing style to someone and draw parallels about theme and setting, I would compare my stab at fiction to Joshilyn Jackson. In fact, while I was writing my first novel two years ago, I haphazardly picked up Between, Georgia. Thirty pages in I had to put it down because the similarities were so glaring that I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of imitating her. I still haven’t finished that book.

Gods in AlabamaThe plot of Gods in Alabama goes like this: Arlene is from a small Alabama town that she left far behind after high school. A decade has passed and she’s enjoying her well-established life in Chicago. She’s in a celibate, mixed-race relationship, she goes by Lena instead of Arlene, and she doesn’t lie. Not even a little. It’s part of deal she made with God after doing something awful as a teenager.

She killed Jim Beverly. He was a bad boy. A boy who very well deserved to die.

But part of her getting away with it was telling God that if He hid the evidence and kept Alabama at bay, she would 1) not lie and 2) not sleep around. So far, so good.

Then the old girlfriend of the boy she killed shows up on her apartment door step. Alabama came to Chicago. Apparently God broke His end of the deal.

A whole slew of things unfold as the book goes on. We toggle back and forth between real time and Lena’s memories about growing up in racist, backwoods Alabama. We learn that her father died when she was young and her mother was never the same. We learn that she was raised by her aunt and uncle and revered her cousin, Clarice, more like a sister. We learn that she acted out and lied and hurt people because she was doing what made sense at the time.

When Lena (and her black boyfriend) arrive in her hometown, so begins the untangling of Jim Beverly’s death, the onslaught of tension over Lena’s life choices, and the unfolding of truths that even Lena didn’t know.

There is a twist at the end that wasn’t as shocking as Gone Girl (has anything been as shocking as Gone Girl?), but it was still a satisfying way to wrap up the story. Things tie up neatly, which I appreciate, and there’s some level of atonement that leads me to believe that Lena and God finally understand each other.

Buy Gods in Alabama here.