Friday, August 26, 2011

Light Reading, Heavy Issues

With my summer at its official end and school starting back up, I'm determined not to cut back too much on my pleasure reading. Sure, I'm already reading along with my students the literature assignments--Beowulf, "Story of an Hour," "Rose for Emily," and more--but my own
reading with no agenda, no lecture notes, no test keeps me sane. The last couple of books I've picked up have not been purely literary, but they both dealt with some serious issues.

Anyone familiar with Jodi Picoult knows that her formula is to take some big issue and add several more, then end with an unexpected twist. Sing Me Home takes on in vitro fertilization, gay marriage, alcoholism, and the Christian right. The book certainly gives book clubs plenty of opportunity for discussion, but somehow, the twists and turns didn't ring true, and some of the stereotypes gave me pause.

Joshilyn Jackson is an old Alabama girl. In fact, the first of her books I read was Gods in Alabama. This newest book Backseat Saints was a slow start when I first began reading, but for some reason, I picked it back up and enjoyed it so much more. Even though most of the story takes place in Texas or California, not Alabama, the main character's Dixie tone was pitch perfect. Even though Jackson's novels can deal with serious issues, she manages humor to balance. Roe Grandy (Rose May Lolly) the protagonist is an abused wife warned by a gypsy at the airport "It's him or you" and realizes she should kill her husband. In her first attempt, she shoots the leg off her dog Fat Gretel. No funny, of course, but certainly unexpected. Never having lived with abuse, I find it hard to imagine what causes people to stay in such a threatening situation, denying the truth, always going to the ER after "falling down the stairs." The difficulty of getting away is more evident--and the cost of leaving.

Jackson's literary references in the book caught my attention--books I have read and loved, familiar lines, beloved characters. This young woman's reading life perhaps gave her the imagination to reinvent herself, to become someone else in search of a new life.

I don't even have the heart to look back to see what I planned to read at the beginning of the summer. I never work my way down that list without veering off. I'm glad to know that any I missed are still waiting on my shelf, ready for me to curl up on the couch and escape temporarily into another world.


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