Southern Goddess 

I must confess. When I first read the press materials for Joshilyn Jackson's gods in Alabama, I thought it was going to be yet another derivative of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, featuring a cast of naughty-but-not-too-naughty Southern belles who solve each other's problems with spunky Southern pluck.

I was wrong. This novel has deep shadows and sharp edges. And if you're not careful, it will break your heart. It also has the best opening paragraph I've seen this year: "There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches."

That's Arlene Fleet explaining why a heavy secret and a deal she made with God kept her away from home for nine years. And Arlene's secret is ... well, you'll see. Just stay away from the tomatoes.

I spoke with the author, who lives in Powder Springs.

Creative Loafing: When I first read about your book, I thought it was a Ya-Ya knockoff. But it's much edgier.

Jackson: When I was growing up, my favorite book was Charlotte's Web, and I read it and reread it constantly. It irritated my brother, so he glued the pages together and wouldn't let me read it until I read Conan the Destroyer - I love Southern authors, especially Flannery O'Connor, but Southern writers with a strong sense of voice and place mess up my writing. I like a lot of muscular boy stuff like Hemingway, that blunt-weapon type of prose. I don't really like people to tell me about the beauty of daisies. ... I've got sort of an odd blend of Southern humor and violence.

Do you think of yourself as a Southern writer?

I absolutely do. I hope I'm not limited to a Southern readership. And it's not so Southern. You're writing about redemption; that's pretty Greek and universal.

Where do you see Southern writing going in the next few years?

As a Southern writer, I know that we like happy endings, and I like that, too. But I don't like Southern fiction that ... gives up the heart for the laugh. I think it's wonderful that we're funny ... but I don't want to sugarcoat the universe. I want Southern writing to not be afraid to be visceral.

thomas.bell@creativeloafing.com

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. $19.95. Warner Books. 275 pages.

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