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Backseat Saints
by Joshilyn Jackson

Published: 2010-06-08
Hardcover : 352 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members
Ro Grandee is the perfect Texas housewife. She’s determined to be nothing like her long-missing mother—the one who left her with only a heap of old novels and her father’s fists for company—so Ro keeps quiet and takes her husband’s punches like a lady. But Ro wasn’t always this way. ...
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Introduction

Ro Grandee is the perfect Texas housewife. She’s determined to be nothing like her long-missing mother—the one who left her with only a heap of old novels and her father’s fists for company—so Ro keeps quiet and takes her husband’s punches like a lady. But Ro wasn’t always this way. Underneath her pastel skirts and hidden bruises lies Rose Mae Lolley, teenaged spitfire, Alabama heartbreaker, and a crack shot with a pistol. Rose Mae is resurrected when a gypsy’s tarot cards foretell doom for dutiful Ro: Her handsome husband is going to kill her. Unless she kills him first. Armed with only her wit, her pawpy’s ancient .45, and her dog Fat Gretel, Rose Mae hightails it out of Texas. In a journey that is by turns harrowing and exhilarating, she uncovers long buried truths about her family and herself, running from the man who will never let her go, on a mission to find the mother who did. Taking a minor character from her bestselling gods in Alabama, Jackson has crafted a “riveting read that simply flies off the page with prose as luscious as sweet tea and as spicy as Texas chili” (Library Journal). BACKSEAT SAINTS will dazzle readers with a fresh and heart-wrenching portrayal of the lengths a mother will go to right the wrongs she’s created, and how far a daughter will run to escape the demands of forgiveness.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Chapter one:

IT WAS AN AIRPORT gypsy who told me that I had to kill my
husband. She may have been the fi rst to say the words out loud, but
she was only giving voice to a thing I’d been trying not to know for a
long, long time. When she said that it was him or me, the words rang
out like church bells, shuddering through my bones. For two days,
they sat in the pit of my belly, making me sick. I had no reason to trust
her, and I’d as soon take life advice from a Chinese take-out fortune
cookie as believe in tarot cards, but I’d lived with Thom Grandee long
enough to recognize the truth, no matter how it came to me.
So on Thursday morning, I got my Pawpy’s old gun, and I lay
for my husband near Wildcat Bluff. Thom liked to run a trail out
there. It was too far from the picnic grounds to attract most daytrippers,
and he got his miles in early, when he could trust it would
be his alone. That day he had me for secret company.
Not two hours ago, I’d gotten up before the sun to make him
real biscuits. I’d cut Crisco into fl our until it felt soft, like powdered
velvet. I’d mixed the dough and rolled it and pressed out
circles with the top of a juice glass. I’d fried bacon and then cooked
two eggs sunny-side up in the grease. I had loaded his grits with salt
and cheese and put thick pats of butter to melt on everything that
looked like it could hold butter. There must have been a thousand
calories in fat alone floating on that plate.
I’d often made him devil-breakfasts like this after fi ghts, so I
hadn’t thought of it as a last meal. It was more of an absurd apology.
Like me saying, “Baby, I’m scared I might blow holes in you
later, but look, I made you the naughty eggs.” Last night I’d made
sex for him, too, in the same way, buttery slick and fat with all the
things he liked best.
An hour before the sex, he’d held my head sideways in his big
hand, my other cheek pressed into the cool plaster of the wall. I’d
been pinned, limbs fl ailing helpless sideways, while he ran four fast
punches down one side of my back. Then he’d let me go and I’d
slid down the wall into a heap and he’d said, “Lord, Ro, why do
you push me like that?”
I didn’t say a word. He knew the answer. We both knew; I
was a good wife most times, but I was made like nesting dolls.
I had something bad, some other girl, buried way down in the
meat of me. That inside girl was the thing that needed to be
hit, that deserved it, and I called it to her. Last night, I’d lay
coiled on the f loor at Thom’s feet, wondering why a big man
like him couldn’t hit through, could never hit me hard enough
to reach her.
On Tuesday morning, I’d driven my elderly neighbor, Mrs.
Fancy, to the airport. She’d come over the week before with a plate
of her hot cheese cornbread and asked me if I would drive her. She
was on a fi xed income, and I knew four days of airport parking
would be a trial for her, so I’d lied and said I’d love to spend a solid
hour fi ghting highway traffi c. I owed her more than a ride to the
airport, as good as she had been to me.
“We can take my Honda,” Mrs. Fancy had said, smiling her
thanks at me with her brown eyes squirrel bright. “You’re saving
me the parking, Ro. At least let me save you the gas.”
Since my ancient Buick got about twelve miles a gallon with
the wind behind me, I was happy enough to take her in the Civic.
That would have been the end of it, if I hadn’t helped Mrs. Fancy
tote in all her luggage. The gypsy was standing near the airport’s little coffee shop like she’d been waiting for me. Like she’d known
that I was coming.
That gypsy looked at me and knew me. She saw me whole,
inside and out, as if my skin was made of glass. She laid her tarot
cards for me, and that reading . . . it was like she took my life and
ran it through a Cuisinart. She told me it was Thom or me, and
God help me, I believed her. As I drove home after, I was shaking
so hard I like to run off the road. I pulled onto the shoulder and
sat, trying to remember how to make my lungs work right. My
hands gripped the steering wheel so tight, the knuckles had gone
bloodless. As I looked at them, a chill, small voice rose up inside of
me, not shaking at all. It said, clear and cold, What we got here is an
almost anonymous car for three days. That could be right useful.
So instead of taking the Honda back to Mrs. Fancy’s garage,
I’d parked it on a busy street a few blocks over. The hours until
Mrs. Fancy’s return began ticking backwards in my head, like a
countdown. I was set to pick her up come Friday, so this muggy
Thursday morning was my last chance. As I’d made Thom’s fi nal,
butter-logged breakfast, my eat-in kitchen had looked as fake as a
movie set, the sunfl owers nodding cheerful on the wallpaper, the
mellow old linoleum gleaming under its fresh coat of Mop & Glo.
I’d whisked about, wiping down the countertop and washing the
cook pans like I was an alive cartoon, hand drawn into a sunshiny
kitchen.
“You trying to kill me, woman?” Thom had said when I’d
set the plate in front of him. My mouth had gone slack, and he’d
grinned up at me. He’d tucked into the bacon, eyes closing as he
chewed. “I can feel my arteries hardening, but my tongue don’t
much care.” I’d managed to get my lips to close before drool fell
out. He’d broken the yolk with one of the biscuits and said, “You’re
gonna get me as fat as your damn dog.”
Gretel had thumped her tail on the fl oor in honor of the word
dog, or maybe the word fat. She knew both words meant her. Gretel
was mine. She was a khaki-colored mutt, mostly hound dog, but Thom always said at least one of her ancestors must have been a
piece of carpet, as much time as she spent sprawled out snoozing on
the fl oor. I’d listened to the real sound of her tail on the linoleum
and thought to myself, This is how to kill a man. I keep myself believing
I won’t, but I keep going, until I am there and already doing it.
It was a trick I was playing on myself, and it worked even though
I knew I was playing it.
Thom left early. Before his run, he had to drop Fat Gretel off to
get her shots, then go by his daddy’s main store and put an antique
Winchester in the safe. He practically had to drag poor Gretel; she
knew a car ride alone with Thom meant the vet. Thirty seconds
after the front door shut, I was butt-up under the kitchen sink, digging
my Pawpy’s old .45 revolver out from the stack of rags behind
my cleaning products. We had another .45 and a .38 at the house,
both automatics, but they were registered. Not even Thom knew
I had Pawpy’s. A gun this old and unused was off the books even
before I stole it out of a shoebox in my daddy’s closet and carted it
halfway across America. It’s the kind of gun a certain type of cop
would like to have on hand. A “drop weapon,” they call it, because
they can lay it down by the body of a bad man and say that he
pulled fi rst.
The pin had broken off years ago, and since revolvers don’t have safeties,
I took the barrel out to travel it. Until I put the barrel back in and
latched it, it was only two lumps of inert metal. I dropped both pieces in
a Target bag. Then I ran back to our room to grab a handful of bullets
out of the gun safe. While I was there, I changed into baggy, dark jeans
and a fl oppy T-shirt, tucking my long dark hair under a baseball cap.
Short as I was, in these clothes I looked like a kid. No neighbor, catching
a glimpse of me trit-trotting down the street near school bus time, could
possibly think of pretty, feminine Ro Grandee.
I jogged to Mrs. Fancy’s car and got in. I shoved my gun under
the passenger seat, then I started up the car and headed out to
Wildcat Bluff. On the fl at land behind me, Amarillo stuck up like
an ugly thumb, and I was glad when the rare hills near the bluff began to hide it. I parked in a pull-in lot that bellied up to the woods,
a mile and change past the lot Thom favored.
Counting the time it would take for him to fi nish his errands,
I was a good half hour ahead of him, but I found myself running
down the trail like he was fast after me. The Target bag banged
against my leg, the loose bullets jangling. I made myself slow to a
measured jog and breathe deep, scanning the woods for the right
spot every time the trail took a sharp turn. Ready, Teddy, hands rock
steady, as Daddy used to say when he was teaching me to shoot.
He’d started me on .22s when I was so small that the knock back
from a .38 would have pitched me over.
At a hairpin curve near the middle of Thom’s route, my gaze
caught on an underdark beneath the waxy leaves of a thicket of
ground ivy. I paused. Peering down, I could just make out the lip of
a long ditch, running like a crossbar to the point of the trail, about
a yard past the fi rst row of trees. Perfect.
I slid myself into the woods, easing between the questing offshoots
of a honeysuckle vine. I curved my spine to limbo under
branches. I slipped each foot between the high fronds of ground
fern to the dirt underneath, precise, like I was stepping into strappy
shoes. Once off the trail, I looked back the way I came and saw
every leaf unbent, every twig unbroken. Even Davy Crockett
wouldn’t think so much as a rabbit had passed. Some days it’s good
to be slight.
Some days it’s not; I could feel the bruises running in a chain
down my back, left of my spine, four in a vertical row. The purple
black bloom in the center of each was the size of Thom Grandee’s
fi st, and the yellow and pale green mottling was different around
each, like the off-sparks from a fi rework caught in a picture on my
skin. They ached me something fi erce as I squatted to check the
trail’s visibility through the green haze of leaves.
Down in the ditch, I’d have a clear view up the slope. I would
see him coming. He’d be at the top of the gentle hill, the rising
sun’s light in his face. I’d wait to shoot till I could see the whites of his eyes. Better yet, I’d watch his Roman profi le pass, his short
forehead leading directly into his long, straight nose, his wide
mouth set in a line as he pushed himself. His blond hair would
be darkened down by sweat. I knew every line of his face; I loved
them all. The beauty of my laying at the hairpin was that I would
see him going, too. His familiar face might stay my wifely hand as
he passed, but I could bury two bullets in the anonymous back of
his head.
As I lowered myself down into the ditch, motion caught my
eye. At the other end, perched on a branch, a long-legged burrowing
owl was swiveling his head around in a perfect half circle to
face me. He’d been sitting still, and his mottled feathers blended
with the shadows, so that he’d been invisible until he moved. He
was perched on a root, head poked up over the lip. He was unconcerned,
sure that he was not what I was hunting. Still, his round
eyes, gold and blank, looked mildly affronted by my intrusion.
“Leave if you don’t like it. I have business here,” I told him, but
I didn’t sound like myself. The words came out pure Alabama,
neglected consonants, long vowels.
If the owl had had shoulders, he would have shrugged. He was
a witness, not a judge. I kneeled down in my half of the ditch, and
he stayed in his.
I said, “Lord, I am talking to owls. I might well be crazy enough
to shoot my husband.” Now I could hear the sharp, small twang
Texas had given me. Half a dozen years here, and my voice had
grown corners.
The owl fl uffed himself. He didn’t like me breaking the quiet
morning. I shouldn’t be making noise anyway.
I scrabbled in the Target bag, fi nding the loose barrel by feel
and then picking out six bullets. I palmed fi ve and slotted the last
one into an empty chamber. It made a snicking sound, then the
whispery rub of metal on metal as it slid home. And there I stuck,
one bullet loaded, as if I were undecided.
“Nothin’ left to decide,” I whispered. Pure Alabama again.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. In the first chapter of the book, Ro says about Rose Mae that she was “a girl I buried years ago.” How distinct are these two facets of Ro’s persona? Is it helpful or harmful for her to try to keep her two—and later, three “identities” separate?
2. Rose Mae’s mother has been flying to Amarillo and stalking Rose for years before Rose finally catches her at it in the airport. Do you think Claire allows herself to be seen, or is it an accident?
3. Ro feels she is complicit in the violence Thom subjects her to. Is this possible? What role do you think her father’s actions against her—and her mother—play in her current marital situation?
4. Think about Rose Mae’s houses throughout the book: Thom Grandee’s house in Texas, Gene Lolley’s house in Alabama, her mother’s house in California. Does Rose consider any of these places home? What would it take for Rose to be truly at home, and do you think she finds one, or ever will?
5. Ro discovers her mother has changed her name just as she herself has. What does a name change really do to each woman’s identity? What does Mirabelle’s refusal to call her daughter Ivy mean? Are their intentions in shedding their old identities the same, and are either successful in accomplishing this? What do you think Jackson is saying about names and identities in this book?
6. What is the significance of the “backseat saints”? How do you explain or discount their existence here?
7. What does it say about Mirabelle that she reads people’s futures for a living? Why do you think she chose this line of work? How does she reconcile this talent for foretelling with her past? Does Rose believe in the tarot cards? Do you? Why or why not?
8. When Rose Mae comes up with the idea that Jim Beverly will save her, do you believe that he can? Do you think she could have left Thom without the potential of Jim’s saving her? What do you think the inability to find Jim did to alter her perspective?
9. A haircut is a powerful tool for change—what did it signify for Rose? Does an external change often bring about internal change? Have you ever wished for—or had—such a transformation? What were the effects?
10. Mrs. Fancy and Ro have a unique bond, that deepens as they find out more about each others’ lives. Do you think Mrs. Fancy was drawn to Ro as a way to make up for her daughter’s troubles? Do you think Ro was actively seeking a mother figure in Mrs. Fancy? How has their relationship helped and hindered each woman?
11. One of the novel’s central themes is forgiveness. Who has the most difficulty forgiving, and is this legitimate? Who in this book most deserves forgiveness, in your opinion, and why?
12. Rose Mae brings only her trusted dog, Gretel, with her from Texas on her travels. She also meets and befriends Parker’s dogs in California. What is the significance of the company of animals here? What role do Parker’s dogs have in allowing her to trust their owner?
13. When Rose is first interested in Parker, she reverts to the only mode of male interaction she knows—flirtation. Why is this such a dangerous instinct for her? Do you think she is able to break herself of this habit in the end?
14. Many characters in this book are overly attached to, or “stuck in” the past. Consider Rose Mae’s unchanged childhood room in Gene’s second house, and in her mother’s house in California, for example. What do you think this says about the Lolley family, or about Southern culture? What in your life have you had difficulty letting go?
15. What do you think of the manner in which Mirabelle went about saving Rose Mae? Do you think she had a choice in killing Thom? Was she wrong or right to do so, and why? Is her punishment justified?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the Author:

I always said that I would never write a sequel. My characters shoot each other and whang each other in the head with tequila bottles and blow up whole, small towns. If they make it whole to the end, they’ve earned the right to be left alone. Sequels require turmoil; no one wants to read about happy people eating a nice baked chicken supper. A good life and a good book are not the same thing.

But Rose Mae Lolley spoke so loudly to me when I was drafting gods in Alabama! Originally she did not appear until chapter eight, but she soon spread through the whole book. Trouble seemed to love her, and under her drifty, boy-magnet exterior, Rose loved trouble right back.

Reader mail and book club call-ins kept her alive in my head. Answering their questions, I realized Rose was an exceptional liar, good enough to fool even me. Once I knew the story she tells in gods was a complete fabrication, I had to figure out every detail of her wild ride toward revenge or redemption. Backseat Saints is not a sequel, though. It is wholly Rose’s book, and it stands up just fine on its own.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Page Turning"by carlymu (see profile) 11/04/10

This is not my usual type of book, but I found it to be an interesting get inside the head of a woman in an abusive relationship and her stuggles to get out.

 
  "Backseat Saints"by RossC077 (see profile) 09/23/10

This book gives me a look at into the life of a women trapped in a violent/abusive marriage and the fact that THAT could have been me. She wasn't fully engrossed in Battered Women's Syndrome as she fought... (read more)

 
  "Another One I..."by riegerd (see profile) 08/15/10

Couldn't put down!

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