“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one” — Flannery O’Connor
Between, Georgia is an exploration of self, family, and the choices one has to make along the way. The book is a follow up to Joshilyn Jackson’s award winning 2006 novel, gods in Alabama. Jackson states in her bio that she was “raised by a tribe of wild fundamentalists who taught her to be virtuous and upright. Unfortunately, it didn’t take…” This irreverent and humorous comment about the author’s history is telling of the themes included in Between, Georgia.
The vehicle for the story in Between, Georgia is Nonny, a young woman sitting on the fence between an adult life in Athens, Georgia, and her sometimes comical family strife in the town of Between. Nonny’s life in Athens is complicated, complete with career and a soon-to-be ex-husband who still stays at her apartment. Readers will be able to identify with Nonny’s struggle to extricate herself from a ridiculous relationship while simultaneously being unable to refuse, just “one last time”, breakup sex. Her career as an interpreter for the deaf is solid, but she feels restless and uneasy much of the time due to a constantly brewing storm in Between.
Nonny’s history is rooted in her identity as a child born to one family and raised by another. The Crabtree and Frett are the feuding families of Between, and Nonny is the connection between the two. Jackson spins an entertaining tale of Nonny’s struggle to balance her personal life and the love and obligation she feels towards her family. The book is essentially “chick lit”, full of references to the popular issues of single womanhood. Jackson, however, also conveys a nod to the genre of Southern grotesque fiction. The characters possess dark humor and myriad oddities of body and mind. The Crabtrees, Nonny’s birth family, are, as slightly indicated by the name, grouchy, caustic, and wiry. The Fretts, Nonny’s adoptive family, are worrisome, uptight, and upright. Nonny embodies a bit of both families. Nonny’s adoptive family situation is predictably rife with strange details. Her mother Eustacia suffers from Usher’s disease, which will eventually render her deaf and blind.
Stacia’s constant companion is her sister Genny, a nervous woman who when not communicating with Stacia in sign language, is picking at her skin or nervously pulling out chunks of her hair. Stacia and Genny work together creating one-of-a-kind dolls, the manufacture of which has brought tourists and money to the town of Between. Bernese Frett, Stacia and Genny’s sister, and Ona Crabtree are the matriarchs of the dueling families. Foils for each other, they are each brash, unyielding, and wildly devoted in their own ways. Both the Fretts and the Crabtrees love Nonny in their own ways, but it is the fighting in between (and in Between) that provides the plot of the story. Readers travel with Nonny on her journey to a pending divorce, family altercations, and a sometimes precarious beginning to a life outside of Between.
Joshilyn Jackson provides interesting details in the characters to paint a vivid story, but the plot at times seems somewhat predictable, a not altogether uncommon occurrence in the chick-lit genre. It is not difficult to foresee the developments in the story, but Between, Georgia, is an enjoyable read regardless. The title indicates much of the plot. Nonny is between two families, on the cusp of youth and full-fledged adulthood, and spans the gap between her family and the outside world.
The inhabitants and events of Between, Georgia are certainly charming and engaging at times. Many moments in the book are capable of producing spontaneous laughter from the reader. In essence, this is a light-hearted read with a special helping of well-written Southern wit and ambiance. Readers looking for a relaxing and entertaining tale of a modern Southern girl will be well satisfied with the story of Nonny Frett from Between, Georgia.