Joe Jackson

How I Left the Great State of Tennessee and Went on to Better Things

"Joe Jackson, known for his literary nonfiction, has now written a frog-coughing, spider-barking, toad-strangling jim-dandy of a road novel. Penned in the tradition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Robert Lewis Taylor's The Travels of Jamie McPheeters, Jackson's How I Left the Great State of Tennessee and Went on to Better Things is a little bit like the 1963 movie It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. But instead of Spencer Tracy and Jonathan Winters, the main characters in this madcap romp through the South are a hell-on-wheels 16-year-old, Dahlia Jean Coker, and a murderous bank robber, Twitch Younger. Together these two impulsive narrators--with the point of view switching rapidly back and forth--tell a story of revenge, greed, hope, and eventually, even love.... In the end, the irresistible human yearning that drives these two souls sets up a denouement that allows for both redemption and grace, making Jackson's foray into fiction an unforgettable journey."
--The Orlando Sentinel

From the back cover:


The year is 1961. In one of the most unheralded migrations of the twentieth century, millions of striving people are leaving the strip mines and hollows of Appalachia in search of better things. Two of these yearning souls--Dahlia Jean Coker, the teenage daughter of a sluttish mother and a deadbeat daddy; and "Twitch," an ex-con descended from the outlaw Younger clan--are looking for their own ways out. After a botched robbery by Twitch, Dahlia takes the lead--with Twitch's loot and his teenage son--with the old man in pursuit, revenge in his heart, and Dahlia's mother riding shotgun.

This high lonesome ride of a novel is alternately narrated by Dahlia, searching for her long-lost father; and the grizzled Twitch, desperate for one last score. Plummeting south through the mountains of Tennessee--from north of the Smokies to the shadow of Lookout Mountain--then on through Atlanta and down Florida's east coast to a climax in a Key West still reeling from the Bay of Pigs, the chase is at once thrilling, heartbreaking, murderous, and hilarious. On the road, readers encounter a snake-handling evangelist, a young man seeking fame as a gamecock breeder, Freedom Riders advocating an integrated America, resolute Klansmen, and the unlucky wife of an adulterous NASA scientist. Battling a Tennessee flood of biblical proportions and a looming hurricane, Dahlia, Twitch, and their companions all end up in Dahlia's daddy's fishing boat in the Keys. The showdown, with a fortune and dreams of a better life at stake, will leave readers marveling at the sustaining quality of our dreams.

A moving tale of love and longing wrapped inside a dark fable of Southern culture, this novel will appeal to all readers of great fiction, especially books by Barry Hannah, Dorothy Allison, Charles Portis, and Larry Brown.

Selected Works

Nonfiction
"A penetrating evaluation of Lindbergh's triumph set against the backdrop of the hero-worshipping Twenties. Painstakingly researched, Jackson's balanced work is a singular contribution to the history of flight in general and to Lindbergh historiography in particular. Highly recommended." -- Library Journal (starred review)
"An exhilarating narrative, sweeping us through great discoveries and international rivalries.... Here is the drama of the scientist made real." -- Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World
"A tragic yet triumphant book about the limits of humanity and human endurance."
--Publishers Weekly
"Leavenworth Train is an express ride into one man's nightmare and redemption."
--American History
Fiction
"A frog-coughing, spider-barking, toad-strangling jim-dandy of a road novel."
--The Orlando Sentinel
Nonfiction; True Crime
"A gripping tale of a death-row inmate's life and eventual death in the Virginia prison system . . . [and]an intriguing, sometimes darkly comic, saga of the escape of death-row inmates who became known as the 'Mecklenberg Six.' Readers looking for a true-crime story that reaches for broader themes, such as THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG, will find one in DEAD RUN. -- The Orlando Sentinel