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Friday, July 9, 2010

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
Adult Fiction

Rose Mae Lolley grew up an abused and abandoned child in Alabama and barely escaped with her life. When she married Thom, this fierce and dirty girl became Mrs. Ro Grandee, suppressing her true self under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats. Ro really tries to please her husband by growing her hair long, keeping her house clean, creating gourmet dishes and working at the family store for slave wages. No matter how much she tries, however, her husband seemingly finds any excuse to beat her bad enough to break bones. Ro may try to hide her past, but that girl Rose Mae sometimes has to make herself known with a sassy comment or snotty look, and then Thom is forced to beat her away again. Ro seems doomed to spend the rest of her life scared of her husband and her former self until fate sends her to the airport where she meets a gypsy. This gypsy knows an awful lot about Ro and when she advises her to kill Thom or be killed by him, Ro takes her words to heart and plans to murder her husband. Taking her grandfather’s gun out of storage, Rose Mae emerges again to save her own life before her husband finishes the job he started.

For some reason I expected this novel to be southern wit and charm, but it’s more of a heavy hitter. Rose Mae’s mother abandoned her when she was eight years old and Rose’s father was the one who accustomed her to a life of being physically abused, and this is never funny. Although Jackson has a way with dialogue, it’s the inner struggles that Ro has with herself that moves the plot forward – though the reader may wish she would hurry up and figure herself out. I found some developments puzzling – for example, why search out a former boyfriend only to suddenly switch gears and then go find her father? I thought she never wanted to see him again; this turn of events left me bewildered. Some things happen so quickly that you are left scratching your head, and then other times the action is painfully slow and cumbersome. The characters have this same inconsistency: eventually I came to like and care about Rose, but we had a rocky start. Her husband Thom, on the other hand, was so evil that he was one-dimensional and stereotypical to a fault. In fact, the only fully developed characters were Rose, her mother, and Fat Gretel, the dog. I found it frustrating that some characters, like Rose’s father’s neighbor, and Mrs. Fancy were almost developed into something interesting then disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Overall, this novel was worth reading as long as your expectations are not too high. I enjoyed her other titles much more and can recommend them more enthusiastically.

Rating (key below):

Other books by this author:
Gods in Alabama (2005)
Between, Georgia (2006)
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming (2008)

Other titles you may like:

Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison (1998)
When Delia Byrd packs her car and begins the long trip home from Los Angeles-from the glamour of the rock 'n roll business, her passion for singing and songwriting, and the darker days of whisky and violence and too much belief in the promises of a man she loved-she heads to Cairo, Georgia, and her own unresolved past.

Behind Closed Doors by Susan Sloan (2004)
Coming of age in the 1950s, Irish Catholic Valerie O'Connor marries a dashing Air Force veteran who hides a drinking problem and violent rages that lead to years of abuse and terror for Valerie and their children.

Grace Notes by Charlotte Allen
Early in her marriage, Grace Loring became the victim of her husband's unpredictable rages. Taking her infant daughter, Grace fled to the safety of her brother Gus's home in Vermont. Now, Grace is a successful author with her own web site. Accustomed to abused women writing to ask for advice, Grace is contacted by a troubled young woman named Stephanie Baine. When Stephanie's e-mails abruptly stop, Grace fears the worst. Then the e-mails resume, and Grace learns that everything she believed about Stephanie may not be true.

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