Cannonball Read V: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
I discovered Joshilyn Jackson last year when I was taking advantage of a book sale and picked up Gods in Alabama. Figuring that the price was right for an author I didn't know and a book description that I found intriguing, I gave it a try. Since then, I've read two more by the same author, and if I had to describe these books, I'd say they are hard-to-read easy-readers. I got through Gods in Alabama in less than two days. The prose-style is straightforward, although rich with description, and the subject matter is dark. God and religion are always present, but the characters' relationship to them are fraught and complicated. Gods in Alabama was one of my favorite books that I read last year, so I picked up Backseat Saints towards the end of my vacation and read it.
Backseat Saints is particularly dark, as it is the story of Ro Grandee, nee Rose Mae Lolley, a woman who ran from her abusive father only to wind up married to a violent man. The years of abuse between her father and her husband has created a double-nature in Rose -- the sweet, soft, nervous Ro, who just wants to avoid triggering her husband Tom's rages, and the fierce and angry Rose Mae, who longs to fire back. A strange and brief encounter with her long-absent mother allows Rose Mae to wake up and realize that she is standing in her grave. Her mother's solution, though, is more extreme than just leaving. She insists that, in order for Rose Mae to survive, Tom must be destroyed.
Backseat Saints is a follow up to Gods in Alabama, since the main characters of both come from the same small Alabama town and actually interact with each other in both books. I didn't enjoy it as much as Gods in Alabama, though, perhaps because it dealt with domestic violence in a darkly realistic way. Jackson doesn't pull any punches, so to speak, when describing Ro's abusive marriage, right down to getting Ro to explain that deep down, she feels she deserves this and still wants to make it work, if she could only get it right. That's the worst part of it -- the part that made me queasy, at least. When she finally does leave, my stomach unclenched - even though there was still quite a bit of book left by that point.
I'm giving Backseat Saints three stars, because while I did like the writing, the reading of it was difficult on an emotional level, and I'm not completely sure I'd recommend it to a lot of people. I think there were parts that were very realisitic and, interestingly, Jackson treats Rose Mae's father with a compassionate and redemptive brush, which I think adds an interesting layer to the story. All the same, it may have been a mistake to read this book in the dead of winter, because it depressed the hell out of me.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)