Monday, March 15, 2010

'Backseat Saints' Shines With Southern Goodness to Its Last Drop

First lines, like first impressions, are always important. One of the most memorable for me is from Kaye Gibbons' novel Ellen Foster: "When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy." That single sentence at once entices readers and draws them in. In her newest novel Backseat Saints, author Joshilyn Jackson also throws out that sort of bait to her reader, never pausing to see what she's caught on her line. With the words,

"It was an airport gypsy who told me I had to kill my husband,"

Jackson is off and running, spinning a tale like no other I've ever read.

Rose Mae Lolley is a deep southern gal. Not a lady-like belle like the pre-war Scarlett, but a rough and tumble girl from deep-south Alabama. She escaped from her own brand of hell just after high school, and she ran until she met her match -- the cynical, strong Thom Grandee, whose only weakness is his gun-store owning daddy. Newly reinvented as Ro Grandee, Jackon's protagonist fills her days helping out in her father-in-law's store and having morning coffee dates with her elderly next-door neighbor. She cooks and cleans, and makes nice for her husband Thom. But the Grandees' marriage isn't all it appears to be, as only the nurses in the ER know all too well.

When Ro reaches her breaking point, Rose Mae reappears and begins making trouble. An encounter with a tarot-card reading gypsy leads Rose down a new path, one in which she must make a choice between herself and her marriage. The two personas living inside Rose battle one against the other, and Rose is spurred into action. Her search for self and freedom take her from Chicago to small town Alabama and back across the country to California. Never has Jackson written a novel that rings so true and holds such deep-seated interest 'til the last southern-drawled word.

I've read all of Jackson's books. As both a female writer and a southern one, she fits my ideal of the perfect genre. I enjoyed her first two novels, gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia. I had more issues with her ghost-ridden third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. However, in Backseat Saints, Jackson outdoes herself in a return visit to Fruition, Alabama, and to a minor character from gods in Alabama. Rose Mae is a character readers won't soon forget, and her tale is one that will resonate in the literary world for years to come. Backseat Saints won't be released until June, but I dare to say it is a novel that will build up quite a buzz between now and then. It may just be one the best novels I've read in years.

You can follow Joshilyn Jackson's blog Faster Than Kudzu if you'd like to keep up with the activities of this southern author. Jackson has a few upcoming appearances, with more to come when the novel is released, I'm sure. If you're thinking you might like to read a little bit of Jackson's writing before you bite the bullet and either make the drive to your local library to check out one of her books or fork over some of your hard-earned cash at a bookstore, read her short story "Little Dead Uglies". It shows off her amazing ear for our southern way of talking, and also gives an brief introduction into the world that is Fruition, Alabama.

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