REVIEW: Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 2010)
ISBN: 0446582344 (ISBN13: 9780446582346)
4.5 stars
 
Goodreads Synopsis:
Rose Mae Lolley is a fierce and dirty girl, long-suppressed under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats. As “Mrs. Ro Grandee” she’s trapped in a marriage that’s thick with love and sick with abuse. Her true self has been bound in the chains of marital bliss in rural Texas, letting “Ro” make eggs, iron shirts, and take her punches. She seems doomed to spend the rest of her life battered outside by her husband and inside by her former self, until fate throws her in the path of an airport gypsy—one who shares her past and knows her future. The tarot cards foretell that Rose’s beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.Hot-blooded Rose Mae escapes from under Ro’s perky compliance and emerges with a gun and a plan to beat the hand she’s been dealt. Following messages that her long-missing mother has left hidden for her in graffiti and behind paintings, Rose and her dog Gretel set out from Amarillo, TX back to her hometown of Fruiton, AL, and then on to California, unearthing a host of family secrets as she goes. Running for her life, she realizes that she must face her past in order to overcome her fate—death by marriage—and become a girl who is strong enough to save herself from the one who loves her best.BACKSEAT SAINTS will dazzle readers with a fresh and heartwrenching portrayal of the lengths a mother will go to right the wrongs she’s created, and how far a daughter will go to escape the demands of forgiveness. With the seed of a minor character from her popular best-seller, GODS IN ALABAMA, Jackson has built a whole new story full of her trademark sly wit, endearingly off-kilter characters, and utterly riveting plot twists.

My Thoughts:
This book really touched me.  Rose’s story (to me) could have been about virtually anyone who comes from a history of abuse.  She’s a smart girl with a lot to contribute to society, and yet she seems trapped by her past and continually repeats the cycle.  She is angry at the world – and understandably so – but she is also angry at herself for loving her abuser(s) and therefore being vulnerable to them…particularly her husband.  Even as she realizes he will eventually kill her and sets about to disappear, she doesn’t disappear enough.  It’s almost as though she has some glimmer of hope that she will get a “re-do” with him…that he will change…even though she knows it won’t go that way.  This emotional connection takes so many people back to their abusers time & again, and I thought Joshilyn Jackson did a superb job of showing how difficult it can be to break the cycle, especially when one’s abuser is driven by an obsession rather than emotions or drugs/alcohol.

The second thing that Jackson does extraordinarily well is develop a well-rounded, complex picture of small town Southern life.  She creates characters (families) that embody the good and the bad of being from the small town South.  The stereotype of the Southern family being notoriously crazy, and more so than families from any other region, is not just a literary convention.  There is an attitude that the South produces it’s own brand of eccentricity that is more exaggerated & pronounced than any other region in the US.  Perhaps it is true, perhaps it isn’t.  It is funny and touching, and stingingly true sometimes, and being a child of the South myself, this resonates with me on every level.

Finally, what I loved most about this book is that Jackson revisits characters & elements of a previous book, and fleshes out a formerly minor character into a full-fledged protagonist.  This is a technique that I find very appealing.  It provides back story for the characters without serializing the story.  Each book can stand on its own, but becomes a richer reading experience if the reader has the benefit of having met the characters in previous books.  Rosamunde Pilcher, Barbara Delinsky, Maeve Binchy and many others have used this technique with great success, and Jackson delivers here in brilliant fashion.

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