Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: The South’s Gone Mad!

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First off, I officially completed the Southern Reading Challenge 2009 on its very last day! Three books in a week and a half—I’m going to call that an accomplishment. I really enjoyed this challenge, because I loooove me some southern literature. Plus, I loved every book I read for it!

Crazy in Alabama is pretty much the perfect title for Mark Childress’ 1993 New York Times Notable novel. You could use any adjective to describe it and you’d be accurate in some regard—hilarious, tragic, bizarre, and most definitely outlandish. It makes for one heck of a unique story.
We follow two alternating stories in this novel, that of Lucille and Peejoe, aunt and nephew. The opening is quite a shocker—Lucille has murdered her husband Chester and cut off his head, which she carries in a Tupperware lettuce bowl, and Peejoe is the only witness to her confession before she leaves town. 

Lucille is a changed woman—thirty-three has lost its old-age feeling once she’s free from the shackles of her marriage. She leaves small-town Alabama and heads to California, fueled by a life-long dream of celebrity. Lucille is determined to make it to Los Angeles and star in ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ at any cost, no matter what she has to steal or who she has to seduce along the way. She feels free and alive for the first time in her life.

It’s 1965 and Industry, Alabama, is deep in racial tension. The law is corrupt, and the federal government is forced to intervene. Peejoe and his older brother Wiley are sent to live with their uncle Dove when their Meemaw takes over Lucille’s six children. Dove is the town coroner and undertaker, and by helping out around the funeral home, Peejoe’s eyes are opened to the realities of life outside of his. Dove, a man with good morales, gets caught up in fighting for civil rights while still trying to maintain business in a racist town. Peejoe witnesses inequality exemplified through violence and the loss of innocent lives and decides to fight segregation to his full ability. 
You never know where this story is going to turn next. The stories are, for the most part, independent with only the occasional overlap, but they, of course, come together in the end. You meet so many oddball characters, yet with just enough realism that you can empathize with even a husband-killer. Emotions are so strong throughout the story. I wanted to cry at all the horrible things Peejoe witnessed during the fight for integration, but I also had to laugh out loud at Aunt Lucille’s off-the-wall logic. The historical setting is very intense, and Childress did an excellent job of presenting two very different sides and, most notably, all the grey areas in between. 
After the initial shock of the beginning wore off, I couldn’t get enough of this book. As I was trying to finish the last 50 pages, outside circumstance kept distracting me, and all I wanted to do was finish this book! When I finally did, I looked back and realized what a powerful story it was. It may be a bit quirky and sensational, but it has a very strong message. Definitely a recommended read.

4 comments:

Salvatore said…

This sounds rather zany and at times intense. Perhaps even disturbing. And how did you find the concept of intertwined stories that are episodic in nature? It sounds like a lot to keep hold of at once.

Congrats on finishing the challenge!

Kari said…

Well the two stories are parallel to each other and each follows its own sequential narrative. It really wasn't too much to keep up with. When I think back, I say, "Oh wow, a lot happened in that book," but it's easy to keep track of it all.

Elena said…

I love reading parallel stories, when they're done right, but I'm pretty sure the only southern book I've ever read is To Kill a Mockingbird. I think I'll make 'Crazy in Alabama' my second.

Kari said…

I've been meaning to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. Don't remember too much about it from the 8th grade!