I love Joshilyn Jackson. Let’s just get that out there. Her books — Backseat Saints is her fourth — are fresh, funny, often dark, thought-provoking, and always infused with a strong, memorable voice. I was hooked from the first sentence of her first novel, Gods in Alabama, and she never disappoints. (She also has one of the funniest blogs anywhere on the internet: Faster Than Kudzu).
Each of Jackson’s four novels is a stand-alone story, but Backseat Saints has some links to Gods in Alabama. In Gods, a woman named Rose Mae Lolley appears a couple of times, an obviously distraught character whose personal quest intersects at a few key points with that of the main character, Arlene. Backseat Saints picks up Rose’s own story and explains just what that quest she was on was.
And it’s a doozy of a quest. Rose Mae Lolley, now Ro Grandee, is the child of an abusive father and a mother who abandoned her, who has since found her way into an abusive marriage. When a gypsy fortune-teller tells her she has to kill her husband before he kills her, Rose attempts to break free of the stifling life she’s trapped in — which inevitably involves returning to where she came from.
Jackson is a genius at pulling the reader in and keeping you on a short leash throughout the book, tearing along through an “un-put-down-able” storyline. But Backseat Saints is more than just a page turner. Brilliant characterization — of Rose herself, and of every other character in the story, major or minor — makes Rose and everyone in her life blaze off the page. Language and setting are powerful and evocative, and the book as a whole is unforgettable — I highly recommend it.