Monday, February 2, 2009

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Out of utter frustration, a new way to find good books dawned on me when I read my last book. On the back cover of any given book, you usually find reviews and praise from other authors. I figure those are probably authors worth looking into (others have already probably thought of this tactic and relied on it for finding their good reads - why didn't you tell me about this? I've been struggling for years for ways to find good books.). Thus, I found Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson.

I am always wary of genre fiction and, in a disappointing way, this novel turned out to be sort of a typical murder mystery, with all the staged twists and turns that others call a "page-turning" plot. I hate "page-turning." Again, it smacks of blatent construction and manipulation of the reader. I prefer more subtle manipulation, at least in my reading.

To continue complaining, I found many of the plot points, especially at the beginning, to be rather dramatic in an insincere way. Also, in the beginning, conversations take place between two 3rd graders that simply wouldn't take place in the real world, at least not with the same insight and vocabulary that Jackson presents - not in my real world. Not unless they were really, really advanced third graders. Like geniuses.

Furthermore, I found the main character's, Arlene's, voice to be a little too witty for some situations. Also, her actions around her boyfriend, Burr, are too calculated to believe that she loves him, though maybe this is just her personality or the affect her secrets have on her.

Oh, I forgot to give a quick summary.

Here you go.

Arlene is a Southern transplant living in Chicago. She left her hometown of small-town Alabama to take up a fast-paced, smarty pants life in a yankee big city, complete with a black boyfriend at whom her family back home would find themselves aghast, if only they ever got the opportunity to meet him. Well, that opportunity is served right up on a platter of mystery and suspense when a ghost from Arlene's past (ugh, see how this sort of fiction leads you right into making cliches of your own? you can't help yourself. it's like an infection of the brain, spread like a cold - which I have right now, a cold, by the way - yuck.) shows up literally on Arlene's doorstep, leading her on an odyssey through her past sins as, one by one, she gives up the promises to God that she made as a teenager, leading, ironically, to her own redemption.

To give her credit, Jackson does create a novel that keeps you guessing, and more than likely guessing wrong, as I did. In fact, you don't really know you're guessing. Jackson, through who is ultimately proved to be an unreliable narrator in hindsight, has you believe that you know exactly what is going on, until you realize you don't, thus the unreliable narrator serves a purpose for Jackson. When you find out the secret behind the secret in this book, you'll regret that you didn't see it, so again I give Jackson credit for a forehead-slapping moment. She got me. And just after you think you've got it all figured out, you realize by the end that you still didn't know all the secrets - Jackson saves that till the last, another forehead-slapping moment.

An okay, entertaining read. I realized early on that I could probably read this in one day, which I did, and am proud of myself. I haven't read a book in one day for as long as - maybe ever, I can't remember. I'm proud of myself, even though this book wasn't of the really meaty variety. A little too gimicky. If I hadn't finished this book in a day, I doubt I would've finished it. I wouldn't have wanted to devote that much time to it. I'm up in the air as to whether I'll try either of Jackson's other two books that've been published since. Don't judge this book by me though - I'm a bit of a book snob, as I've said before. If the summary sounds like something in which you'd be interested, go for it. - 3 stars

I've got two more books from my back-of-the-book-authors technique; we'll see how they go.


Amanda said...

I've never thought about using back of the book authors for reading suggestions. I just read a lot of book review blogs. :)

hamilcar barca said...

the plot sounds good. i particularly like the idea of an unreliable narrator. too bad the actual writing didn't measure up to the concept. was this her first book? if so, maybe her technique got better later on.

Amber said...

yes, indeed her first book! good call!

amanda, I need to read more book review blogs. I found one on blogger, lesbianbookclub, that's helping me find decent books for the club I started.

Amber said...

well, I mean, the lesbianbookclub blog isn't really a book review blog, but a book club blog, in any case I've found a good (lengthy) book list to work from there.

Amanda said...

That'll work, too. Most of the book review blogs I read aren't group ones like this one, but just individuals posting their book reviews. They generally read about the same amount of books that I do, and have a nice spread. I found a couple I relate to (like Trish's and Rebecca's) and try to keep track of those. I value their opinions a lot.