Set in Alabama over a period of about forty years beginning in the late 1940s, this exquisite collection of fifteen short stories provides snapshots into the lives of different characters.
The link between the stories is Billy, AKA William Vernon Johnson. Though they can be read as stand-alone stories, the collection chronicles the life of young Billy from a young boy to a man enjoying his role as a grandfather. Billy/William narrates several stories, but many of the stories are told in the third person, allowing for human experience to be revealed from several different perspectives.
Author John Isaac Jones writes with elegant simplicity, yet his narrative is rich with detail and the keen observation of the human character. Jones’s easy-going and familiar story-telling voice and descriptions place the reader in the heart of each story. The stories are simply told yet contains a paradox, an irony, a heartfelt lesson in love and life.
The first story, PREJUDICE, creates the setting for the reader, as William remembers: “I didn’t actually meet a Negro face-to-face until I was five years old. Of course I was aware of their existence from a distance.” After watching his father and mother interact with Calvin Washington, William later reflects:
“Somehow, I’ve been sitting on those back porch steps with that Negro man all my life.
On one hand, knowing that at some level within the human spirit there is a universal frequency at which all men recognize one another’s sameness, and on the other hand, also knowing that human reason always manages to find perceived difference, which most men will use to set themselves apart from their fellow man.”
In A VIRTUOUS WOMAN, widower and grandmother Mrs. McKinney is wooed by 67-year-old Mr. Fletcher who wants to marry her, but when he pressures her into pre-marital sex, all bets are off – and it might have just saved her life. Others are not so lucky as in ONE STUPID MISTAKE; the story of eighteen-year-old Robert James Worthington who has everything going for him, but the ability to make the right decision one fateful night. In ANNIE: “I’M NOT BARREN,” SHE SAID; Annie is fed up with her partner not fulfilling her needs, and crosses the brink of sanity. However; in LENNY: LOOKING FOR LOVE; Lenny does find the woman of his dreams, but when she is gone, so is his zest for life.
There are many other stories painting the portraits of the diverse people in William’s life, but the final story, GRANDFATHERS, brings the collections to a heartwarming close. William draws parallels between his experiences with his grandfather, and his experiences as a grandfather with his own grandson, and brings the collection to a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion:
“Both knew instinctively that nothing could stop the eternal transition from the old to the new. The forward movement of the big wheel was an undeniable certainty.”
ALABAMA STORIES provides a beautifully understated and compelling glimpse into human experience.
Reviewed by Maya Fleischmann for IndieReader