Joshilyn Jackson (2006, Warner Books)
A year or so ago, I raved about gods in Alabama, Jackson's first book, and I loved this one too. She has a great gift for storytelling, and for characterising both people and places.
'Between' is a tiny Georgia town, so called because it is halfway between Athens and Atlanta. It's a pretty little place, with a town square full of shops and offices, the kind of place where two sixty-five-year-old ladies can nurse a cordial dislike that goes back sixty years or so. Our narrator and heroine, Nonny Frett is the adopted niece of one of these ladies, and the natural granddaughter of the other, so she knows their battleground intimately.
Eustacia Frett, the mother who claimed Nonny from the foyer floor where she was born, was herself born deaf, and became blind in middle age, as a consequence of Usher's syndrome. Her sweet but intensely neurotic sister Eugenia lives with her, serving as her eyes and ears, and the two of them make old-fashioned porcelain dolls. Their older sister Bernese lives next door with her husband and children, and manages the doll business.
The Fretts are proud tee-total Baptists; Nonny was born to the teenage daughter of their neighbor Ona Crabtree, who drinks to excess and keeps vicious dogs. "The Fretts were meticulous, order incarnate. The Crabtrees lived in unimaginable squalor. The Fretts lived within convention and tradition, while the Crabtrees spread like kudzu, generating chaos and more Crabtrees, generally without benefit of marriage."
At the time of the novel, Nonny is working as a sign language interpreter in Athens, and waffling about dissolving a ten-year marriage to the sexy, but feckless and unfaithful, Jonno. A rise in temperature between the Fretts and the Crabtrees back home in Between proves a powerful distraction, and the story takes off from there.
Jackson shows great narrative skill, telling us things through Nonny's eyes that she can't quite see herself, so that the story unfolds in a way that rewards a second reading. She also shows how Nonny manages to integrate the two sides of her heritage--a task that falls to most people at some point, but not always out of such apparently diverse material. What the two tribes have in common, in the end, is a fierce dedication to defending their own; that's how feuds go on for so long, isn't it, but it also points the way to Nonny's heart's desire.