Reading like a Writer | Backseat Saints

Join me as I explore books that didn’t meet my expectations – for better or worse! They didn’t deliver; read on to find out why! Spoilers, obvi.

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For the most part, I’m a loyal, faithful reader: impress me, and I shall continue buying your books. I enjoy Joshilyn Jackson’s work, and I’ve read or listened to almost everything she’s written at this point. She narrates most of her books, so I get a nice dose of Southern every time I press play.

My latest foray into Jackson territory was Backseat Saints. It’s almost a parallel story to my first (and favorite) read, Gods in Alabama. The protagonist from each book intersects the other’s plot at pivotal moments, and it’s pretty cool – meaningful without feeling gimmicky.

My biggest issue with this book has very little to do with Jackson as a writer – you keep on keepin’ on, girl – and everything to do with publicity and marketing.

See, the book blurb is misleading.

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You know I’m upset when the Elf .gifs start coming, y’all.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads, minus the final paragraph (accolades for the author/book) :

Rose Mae Lolley is a fierce and dirty girl, long-suppressed under flowery skirts and bow-trimmed ballet flats. As “Mrs. Ro Grandee” she’s trapped in a marriage that’s thick with love and sick with abuse. Her true self has been bound in the chains of marital bliss in rural Texas, letting “Ro” make eggs, iron shirts, and take her punches. She seems doomed to spend the rest of her life battered outside by her husband and inside by her former self, until fate throws her in the path of an airport gypsy—one who shares her past and knows her future. The tarot cards foretell that Rose’s beautiful, abusive husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first.

Hot-blooded Rose Mae escapes from under Ro’s perky compliance and emerges with a gun and a plan to beat the hand she’s been dealt. Following messages that her long-missing mother has left hidden for her in graffiti and behind paintings, Rose and her dog Gretel set out from Amarillo, TX back to her hometown of Fruiton, AL, and then on to California, unearthing a host of family secrets as she goes. Running for her life, she realizes that she must face her past in order to overcome her fate—death by marriage—and become a girl who is strong enough to save herself from the one who loves her best.

Now, let me break this blurb down for you – just in case you would like to prevent expecting a different novel when you read the book.

Paragraph 1: Super immersive right off the bat – you know your character, her conflict, and the stakes. She’s fierce but faded, and her future is laid out: kill or be killed.

Paragraph 2: Spoiler alert, this is where the blurb falls apart.

Did you read this and expect a reflective, healing road trip interspersed with clues? Well, prepare to be disappointed. While Rose Mae does do some of these things, they’re not the bulk of the novel. This point hits about two-thirds in, with a little time spent in Alabama. But her trip from Alabama to California occupies about the same amount of space in the blurb and the novel.

The only reason this works? The novel proper works better. A reflective, retrospective road trip? It’s been done. And that’s not where this novel could have shined. Jackson immerses the reader in Ro vs. Rose Mae, and it’s far better to experience the character’s internal conflict and see that dichotomy. Rather than hope, the majority of the novel focuses on fear – which makes those tiny glimmers all the more powerful.

For my first “Reading like a Writer” feature, the lesson is this: if you’re giving the reader a better book/experience, it’s okay to not deliver what the reader expected.

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Think I’m off my rocker? Leave a comment and give me a piece of your mind!

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