Mon August 14, 2006
Joshilyn Jackson, after only one year from publishing gods in Alabama, is back. Although the population of Between, Georgia is tiny, the reader may rest assured that the inhabitants have gigantic eccentricities.
By Don Noble
In 2005 when gods in Alabama was published, my review may have been a little harsh. Gods in Alabama became a minor best-seller and a Booksense pick, and created a lot of talk. Nevertheless, I still think there is something cheesy about the premise that a young girl would make a deal with God never to have sex for her entire life and or ever to tell a lie, if she is allowed to get away with murdering the creepy high school quarterback whose body, presumably, lies rotting under a hill of kudzu.
Joshilyn Jackson, after only one year, is back. The setting of her new novel has moved from Brewton, called Fruiton, Alabama, to a fictional town in Georgia. Between, Georgia, population 91, lies halfway between Athens and Atlanta. Although the population is tiny, the reader may rest assured that the inhabitants have gigantic eccentricities.
There is a Jewish lawyer, Isaac Davids, and no one seems to know why he lives and practices in Between. There are two extended families, the Crabtrees and the Fretts, and each is a constellation of oddnesses.
The Crabtrees are twenty-first-century Snopeses. They are vile, mean, ignorant, keep a junkyard complete with three vicious junkyard dogs, Dobermans. Even worse, though, than the Georgia Crabtrees, are the Alabama Crabtrees, Jimmy, Billy, Teak, and Grif. These young men are all feral felons, in and out of jail for ?guns and dope, drunk and disorderly, DUI, petty larceny, and fighting,? but the worst is Billy, who has been arrested for ?arson, rape, destruction of property and assault.?
The Fretts are much nicer, but odd in other ways. With the Fretts, Jackson brings into play an element which is relatively fresh in Southern literature. There have been deaf people and mutes in Southern literature in the past?Singer in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and the deaf-mute, legless Marvin Molar in Harry Crews?s The Gypsy?s Curse, to name a couple, but Jackson uses this device for humor and pathos.
In the first chapter, Hazel Crabtree shows up at the Frett house, and has no sooner entered the foyer than she gives birth on the floor. Berenice Frett, who is a retired nurse, and her sister Genny deliver the baby, complete with yelling, panic, towels, and hot water while all the while signing to their sister Stacia, who is deaf. It is not too much to call this scene hysterical.
Stacia Frett is not only born deaf but also has Usher?s disease, which causes her to go blind at about the age of forty. She is very creative, however, and sculpts unusual dolls which she sells for a good living.
The baby born on that floor is the novel?s heroine and narrator, Nonny, who grows up to be a professional American sign language interpreter, learning at first for her adoptive mother Stacia, who takes the baby from the Crabtrees and raises her.
There then begins a feud between the two families that lasts for the next thirty years. The reader senses, of course, that as tension rises, the vicious dogs being kept by careless, incompetent trash will get loose. The reader of Romeo and Juliet knows that where there are Capulets and Montagues, or Crabtrees and Fretts, if there are young people, there might one day be love, and a kind of ceasefire in place.
Jackson has her gifts. She can create unusual characters, generate plot, both violent and sexual, and keep the story moving up and down the Georgia roads. The whole novelistic enterprise moves too close to melodrama for my taste, but this novel is already selling briskly, so it obviously pleases lots of people. The Alabama Crabtrees are marvelous creations which remind you that although we are not supposed to say so, there is still such a thing as white trash.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.