Ro Grandee has been running from her ghost of a past for years now — but not even her husband’s unforgiving hands can shed her of her old life. Rose Mae Lolley — the hardscrabble girl she was in Alabama — still simmers beneath Ro’s perfect housewife persona. Now settled in Texas with Thom, her brute of a husband, Ro tries to make peace with the unpleasant hand life has dealt her — and keep her abusive spouse as calm as possible.
When a gypsy catches Ro’s attention at a nearby airport, she begins to question the many choices leading to her violent small-town life. At the top of her list is the sudden flight of her mother, who left her in her father’s drunken hands when Rose was young. When she searches her heart, Rose can’t help but also think of her first love, Jim Beverly. Jim swore he’d always protect her, but he disappeared just when she needed him most. Now determined to save herself before Thom changes everything irrevocably, Rose hatches a plan that may finally give her peace — and room to seal the past forever.
Joshilyn Jackson’s Backseat Saints is an emotional, disturbing and incredibly well-written novel centering around one of the most unique characters I’ve ever encountered. Throughout this compelling novel, Rose is Ro Grandee, Rose Mae Lolley and Ivy Wheeler, filling out each woman completely and in a different way. Her many incarnations are fascinating, and Jackson did a remarkable job of crafting an unexpected, believable tale.
To start, it’s impossible to discuss Backseat Saints without delving into domestic violence. Rose — temperamental, damaged, beautiful Rose — is a battered woman. Thom is a terrible, frightening brute — a man I wanted to come to a violent end almost from the beginning. There were parts of this book that were almost impossible to get through. I listened to this one on audio over the course of a week and, though I was desperate to know what would happen, my stomach often ached with anxiety. If I’d been reading a physical copy, I’m sure I would have skipped large passages.
Despite its disturbing subject matter, Backseat Saints was utterly absorbing. Jackson based a multi-layered tale on a broken narrator I cared for deeply, choosing to trust her despite her bad decisions. Each unexpected plot twist brought us closer to understanding how Rose became Ro, and I spent most of the story waiting for her to finally break free of Thom’s terrible bonds. All I wanted was for her to taste sweet freedom. But I knew that freedom had a price.
I loved Jackson’s peripheral characters, too, especially the kindhearted old dear Mrs. Fancy. Parker was a nice parallel to the horrible force that was Thom, and even Jim Beverly had a certain appeal through Rose’s eyes. After finishing Backseat Saints, I learned this book is a companion novel to Gods In Alabama. The latter explores the history of a sidebar character and greatly explores the fate of Jim Beverly, a character that fascinated me in Backseat Saints. I’m glad I didn’t know what became of him as I was reading. Everything about this book was a total surprise to me.
Listening to Backseat Saints on audio was a pleasure. Jackson herself narrated this strong Southern fiction, and her lilting twang was both comforting and engaging. Rose was brought to life by Jackson’s pitch-perfect narration. She did a wonderful job of differentiating between characters, too — even if her male voices sounded a bit hokey. Having Jackson read her story aloud was like Rose climbing into the car with me, vowing to fill me in from the beginning.
Fans of Southern fiction, women’s fiction and family dynamics will find a unique, unforgettable tale in Backseat Saints. The role of Rose’s Catholic faith in her decision-making was fascinating, too, and I felt like I’d been on an epic journey with her by the close of the novel. I’ll be backtracking to read Gods In Alabama next, and I have a feeling I’ll love it just as much. Jackson has an enthusiastic new fan.
4.5 out of 5!