This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, partly because I was lucky enough to talk with the author about it a whole year before it came out. I was looking forward to the conclusion of the Gaither sisters' story arc, as well as the southern setting and family history.
When we rejoin Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, they are on their way to the Greyhound terminal to begin their journey to visit Big Ma and her mother, Ma Charle,s in rural Alabama. There are several potential sources of conflict, both overt and less obvious. Pa's new wife ("Mrs.") is pregnant. The friction between Delphine and Vonetta is still present, as is Vonetta's resentment towards Uncle Darnell, who's out of rehab and living with Big Ma. (It's a difficult time all around for Vonetta). And then there's the bad blood - buckets of it - between Ma Charles and her half-sister, Miss Trotter. The two sisters live on opposite sides of the same creek, but haven't spoken in decades. Oh, and the family ties to the Klan.
If you think that all makes Gone Crazy in Alabama sound like an awfully ambitious novel, then you are correct. Williams-Garcia has a lot of plot threads to weave together, a new setting and several new characters to introduce, and a trilogy to bring to a satisfying close. For the most part, she accomplishes all of it with finesse. The relationship among the three sisters, especially Delphine and Vonetta, is going through some growing pains, and the resolution of that arc is poignant, as is Vonetta's reconciliation with Uncle Darnell. The Alabama setting - lazy and idyllic on the surface, complicated underneath - is well-realized. There are several intriguing new characters, especially Ma Charles and Miss Trotter, whose mutual sniping provides much of the book's humor.
On the whole though, this is not nearly as funny a book as either of the previous two. There is a brush with tragedy that takes up several chapters, but even before that, most of the characters are going through difficult times for various reasons. That's all handled deftly enough that it doesn't weigh down the narrative, but some of the family history does slow the pace. Telling it through Ma Charles and Miss Trotter's dueling narratives is clever, but it's still a lot of history to get through, and as a reader I often felt lost. Your mileage may vary.
Taken as a whole, Gone Crazy showcases the lovely prose, sharp dialogue, and larger-than-life situations that Rita Williams-Garcia writes so well. The many fans of the Gaither sisters will find it a satisfying conclusion to the series.
Published in April by Amistad/HarperCollins