Note: this is the sequel/companion novel to gods in Alabama, which I have not read. I assume I am missing some things here and there due to that. (Update: read it, review is over here.)
Anyway: Ro Grandee has a run-in with a gypsy fortune teller at the airport, in which she gets a tarot reading (Tower, 2 of Swords, Hanged Man) and is told that either her husband will kill her or she will have to kill him. No exceptions. As it turns out, the gypsy is disturbingly familiar, and Ro realizes later that was her mother, who took off and left young Rose with her abusive dad when Rose was 8. Her mother also leaves behind a secret message for her at Cadillac Ranch(!), and Ro steals a library book off of her, revealing that her mother is in California.
Ro knows that the fortunetelling is true-- her husband Thom has been beating her for five years. Every time his jerkass dad picks on him, Thom comes home and beats on Ro. (God, I hate it when abuse goes down the chain of screaming.) I will admit that I felt sorry for Thom whenever his dad started in on him, but that certainly doesn't excuse a damn thing. The marriage is somewhat bearable--the sex is, anyway. However, when Ro starts off the book trying to shoot her husband, despite her years of experience with a gun and working in a gun store, she freaks out, loses her aim, and can't do it. Hell, she shoots her own dog's paw off by mistake. So she tries to reconcile herself to the marriage, maybe ponder having a baby...but after Thom's next run-in with his dad, she's in the hospital and realizing that the gypsy was right.
Ro goes through identity crises in the novel, between being (a) Ro Grandee, abused wife, (b) Rose Mae Lolley, her old high school self with spunk and fire and well, still being attracted to abusive men, and (c) Ivy Rose Wheeler, the identity she borrows from her neighbor's dead granddaughter so she can get away from Thom. It can get a little confusing.
Since Ro/se can't seem to pull off shooting Thom herself, her next idea is to go search for Jim Beverly, her high school boyfriend, the one she really loved and he only beat her up once. Jim offered to kill her dad once, and maybe if she can find him, he'll kill someone else for her. This doesn't seem like the world's most brilliant logic ever, especially since Jim hasn't been seen whatsoever since he ran out of town at age 18. However, Ro/se tracks down the other girl Jim was probably boffing back then, Arlene, and sneaks off to Chicago while Thom's out of town to see if she can find Jim. Without getting much into the action that seems to have gone down in gods in Alabama, let's just say she doesn't find him, Arlene seems traumatized as hell, and apparently Jim was just as much of an abusive fuckwad as every other man Ro/se has known in her life.
Ro/se comes home, followed shortly by Thom, who figured out she had been gone for a few days and...now he's gonna kill her. Grabbing her dog and running, Ro/se flees back to her old hometown in hopes that maybe her drunk abusive daddy's willing to kill Thom for her, but her dad is in no shape to do so. (He's also in AA and making amends.) After that, she runs all the way out to California...and I'll leave it at that due to spoilers and things getting rather surprising.
(a) Ro/se's voice in this is very compelling. Even though she makes decisions that bother me/are kind of stupid at times, I was definitely compelled to keep reading and find out what the hell was going to happen to her. She's an interesting character with personality.
(b) The author does abusive relationships and the cycle of them very well. You can see those good moments in Thom before he goes homicidal, and like I said, I actually felt very sorry for him every time he went up against his dad and failed. The scene right before Thom puts Ro in the hospital (after a very brutal conversation with his dad about wanting a raise) is so dreamy and hopeful that hell, I was rooting for them, and I hate abusive fuckwads. But...yeah.
(c) The twists in the book, particularly in the third section in California, kept shocking the heck out of me even though I probably should have figured out it was going in that direction. Dang! Anyway, the resolution of the book, and the explanations (when given) of what was going on work out.
(a) Ro/se is ah...well, she's not so good at making decisions at times when it comes to men. Thinking that a guy she hasn't seen since she was 18 (and she has no idea how to find) is going to protect her? Thinking that her dad who used to beat her up is going to protect her? I know you're desperate and out of options, but...argh. Also, when you know your husband is chasing you, heading straight to your hometown should seem like an amazingly bad idea to you, because that's where he'll look.
(b) I realize now this book is meant to be read after gods in Alabama, but let's just say there's some "one, two, skip a few" moments going on between sections 2 and 3 of this book that I felt rather disconcerted about missing. Because those bits are in the first book, duh.
(a) Ro/se frequently slips into flashbacks about her sex life with Jim and other moments. I really wish those had been put in sections or italics or some way to separate more that this action wasn't going on in the present time. I frequently was doing "wait, what? who's this? what's going on now?" for a page or two every time the author did that, and it was disconcerting and confusing. I seriously had to go back and reread certain sections because I missed details and was confused as to what had gone on.
(b) I was confused as to what the hell was going on with Ro/se's mother, and it took me awhile and going back and rereading to figure out what was going on. At first I thought she was crazy for suddenly being all "That was my mom!" after the airport run-in, especially when I was thinking, "You haven't seen your mom since you were 8, how would you know?" I think I just didn't get that this was actually going somewhere and wasn't part of Rose's imagination until part 3. Or maybe that's just me.
I'll give it three and a half stars overall. It'd be four, but for issues of confusion--and well, a bit of frustration over Ro/se's life choices-- I'm giving it a wee bit less. Good read, though.