Oh this book make made so MAD!
Set in the 1960s in Alabama, Mark Childress’s novel follows two plotlines/perspectives. First is Peejoe, a twelve year old boy who lives with his grandmother. One day his Aunt Lucille shows up with all of her kids — and her dead husband’s head — announcing that she killed her husband because he wouldn’t let her go to Hollywood (seriously). She shows everyone the head, even her poor kids, dumps the children with her mother and drives off to L.A. Peejoe and his brother get shuffled to an uncle, who owns a funeral home in another small town in Alabama, where Peejoe learns himself a lesson about race relations.
Lucille Vinson is one of the most selfish, cruel, evil characters that I’ve ever read, and she’s supposed to be our hero in this novel. She finally goes on trial for the death of the husband at the end, wherein she appeals to the jury by complaining about all the mean little things her husband did to her, which totally justify her putting rat poison in his coffee and removing his head with an electric carving knife, and the women of the jury all think, “Yeah, my husband’s an asshole, too — this guy deserved it!” I’m sorry, but that’s not justice. He wasn’t a murderer, he didn’t beat his wife or his kids or sell them into slavery. He was just a jerk. Lucille married him because she was bored, basically, and resented him for not letting her ditch the SIX kids they had together and pursuing her Hollywood dreams. I know that women in the 60s in the south didn’t have a lot of options in life, but nothing justifies Lucille’s actions. After she kills him and ditches her kids on her mother, she steals a car, sleeps with half a dozen men on her way to Hollywood (including a state trooper whom she leaves handcuffed in his own car), and also wins a considerable amount of money at a casino. She falls into temporary fame as guest star on the Beverly Hillbillies, and all’s fine and dandy, except for her traumatized children and poor exhausted mother back home.
If not for the Lucille thing (which, after all, comprises half the novel), Crazy in Alabama would have been a pretty decent read. Peejoe’s a nice kid, if a bit naive, and his coming-of-age in a town experiencing intense segregation and riots gives us a glimpse into small town life in the 1960s in the south (hint: not so nice if you’re not really white). His Uncle Dove, with the funeral home, struggles to do the right thing without sinking his family and business, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. It’s still a story very much told for white people by white people, but it’s a nice start. A lot of the reviews I’ve read (most of which were extremely positive) commented on the humor of it, but I didn’t think it was particularly funny. Maybe I just didn’t get the joke.
But my god I hated that bitch Lucille.