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SOUTHERN GOTHIC MUTHAFUCKERS!!!


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So, with a number of our founders hailing from below the M-D, and many of our members with an interest in dark, twisted literature, let us explore that unique branch of literature them folks in the ivory towers call "Southern Gothic". Obviously, you start with Faulkner's darker shit and proceed directly to the awesomely talented Flannery O'Connor, but then what? Where do you go for more? Let's see what y'all come up with after I start with a few of my favorites. As a horror guy, I'm going to lead off with a couple of books from genre writers that seamlessly slide from the horror genre straight into Southern Gothic and back...

Boy's Life and Gone South by Robert McCammon. McCammon will always be known for writing the apocalyptic novel that The Stand  should have been, if Stephen King had a modicum of self-control (Swan Song). However, Rick McCammon is an Alabama boy through and through and in these two novels he goes home in a big way. Boy's Life has been called the best Ray Bradbury novel that Bradbury didn't write, but it's even better than that. Bradbury would get all weepy-whiney about the loss of childhood innocence, McCammon RAGES about it. Gone South kicks ass in so many ways that I'm really not surprised that it didn't become a best-seller, it's too dark and too real for that.

Then we have Sineater by the lovely and talented Elizabeth Massie. Sadly, Beth has turned her talents to young adult fiction, but between this novel and her lone collection of short stories she lays a strong to being the mutant child of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor.

Now I may catch heat for this next one, but Cormac McCarthy in addition to being the finest living writer in the English-speaking world is also the best there was, the best there is and likely the best that there ever will be at the Southern Gothic, if you agree that Texas and New Mexico are part of the South. The setting is a little different, but he has the vibe down cold. Blood Meridian: An Evening Redness in the West is not only one of the best horror novels ever written, but simply one of the best novels ever written, and you know what? The Outer Dark and All the Pretty Horses ain't far behind.

As long as I'm stretching boundaries, I might as well throw in my favorite newer author, Donald Ray Pollock... And yes, I know that Southern Ohio is not the South, but that's an irrelevancy. Pollock pulls off the most stunning debut collection with Knockemstiff  and then ups his game with the debut novel The Devil All the Time. In the novel he does a masterful job of weaving the stories of several strange, broken, and desperate people together in an odyssey of attempted homecoming. Some make it, some don't; but it's the awesome journeys that interweave that make the book a masterpiece. Pollock is my age and has spent most of his life working in factories until deciding to try his hand at writing a few years ago, he's been watching life carefully and taking notes; I've no idea what he's going to do for an encore, but I know I'm going to be in line to see what it is.

Then of course there's Harry Crews... You can make the argument that Miami and Orlando aren't really the South and I would agree with you. By that same token, it doesn't get any more Southern than the Florida panhandle where Mr. Crews hailed from. Like McCarthy, his books and people are larger than life, the grotesque is the norm and were I to tell you that books about (respectively) gospel singers, falconers, soap salesmen, strong men, boxers, snake handlers, and trailer-park managers contained the stuff of legends you might well think I've gone mad. Really, try any Harry Crews novel, then you'll want to read them all and then you'll never be the same... And that's probably a good thing...

Is Tom Franklin a crime writer from the South or is Tom Franklin a Southern writer who uses horrific crimes as a plot device? I think that the answer is "yes" and that's just perfectly fine by me. Start with the collection Poachers and continue from that point on. If you're like me, you'll wonder how on Earth you missed this guy.

William Gay: Time Done Been Won't Be No More... A fitting title to his last volume of collected prose. Clearly the literary heir to Faulkner and possibly even as good as McCarthy, Gay's first book appeared when he was already 58 and while the next decade was very productive, it's a shame he didn't get started two decades earlier.

Dept. of Getting in on the Ground Floor: Go to abebooks.com and buy a copy of The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn. That's okay, I'll wait... All done? Cool, you have just picked up the first book by the guy that I'm calling right NOW as the author of this and the next couple of decades. If you could fuse the dark, apocalyptic vision of Cormac McCarthy, with the depictions of dirt-poor despair of William Gay and the larger than life grotesqueries of Harry Crews, with the dark violence of Tom Franklin and Donald Ray Pollock, you might just wind up with someone who can write like Matthew Guinn. Okay, you've got his first book, his next one is out within the month, I think you can even pre-order it now. However, if you're smart, Google his website and it will give you a link to a bookstore where he's signing in mid-September and get yourself a signed first edition, in a few years you will thank me.

Okay, there's a start... now who ya got?

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Despite of or perhaps because of having an English degree, i loathe Faulkner.

I would so hate the class in which i read The Sound and the Fury, but it was the same class in which i read Crime and Punishmemt, one of the two books that most effected me as a person. :)

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Doing a bit more rummaging around, I ran across Randy Thornhorn and Edward Trimnell, both of whom seem to be self-published, which is usually a huge red flag for me, but they have been accorded blurbs by many of the right people and their books sound delightfully perverse, so they get added to the list for when the next royalty check shows up... One has three books the other has two, so at this point you can get their complete works for well under a hundred bucks, actually, if you go with trade paperbacks, it's closer to sixty. Deals like that will keep me from getting into trouble buying a first edition of The Outer Dark... It should be mandatory that the Modern Library re-issues everything Cormac McCarthy has ever written, I don't mind paying $100-$200 for a nice hardcover of a favorite title; and I really, really want hardcovers of The Outer Dark and Suttree, but that's an easy $1200.00 and there are no cheaper hardcover options... So right there, basically three months book budget on two books... Nope, not doing it.

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McCarthy kinda started off as Faulkner-lite so his early novels should definitely be included but I'd cut it off at Outer Dark.

 

If you want to take the style really further afield, I just read a novel called Beastings by Benjamin Myers which is set across the Cumbrian fells in England. His sentence structure's read like McCarthy fanboy-ism but its definitely got the southern gothic feel and mood

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All right, fine! I ordered Boy's Life, Gone South and The Resurrectionist. Are you happy now?!

 

Thank you for that post. I'll be getting to all the rest later. 'Southern Gothic' in general has been on my list for a very, very long time.

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Ya done good, get yourself A Feast of Snakes* and The Devil All the Time to round things out and you're all set...

 

* I do mean the book of course, while an actual feast of snakes may be highly nutritious, they are very boney critters and generally a pain in the ass to eat.

All right, fine! I ordered Boy's Life, Gone South and The Resurrectionist. Are you happy now?!

 

Thank you for that post. I'll be getting to all the rest later. 'Southern Gothic' in general has been on my list for a very, very long time.

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I read A Feast Of Snakes years and years and years ago, but I can't remember for the life of me what I thought of it. I must have it lying around somewhere. That'll be a good start while I wait for the other books to arrive. I also ordered The Devil All The Time. I can't wait.

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Roman:

 

I envy you your discovery of Donald Ray Pollock, even though mine was just a couple of months ago. I haven't been that blown away by a writer in decades, it would have to go back to the first time I read Lucy Taylor or Harry Crews for such an effect.

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A bit of serendipity while broadening my horizons in this here genre... Found a pretty elementary but useful list: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/16019.Best_Southern_Gothic_Literature#40471 and started poking around to see who might turn up linked as in "if you like so and so you'll probably like such and such" and sure enough, turned up a couple of names not on the core list (which could be vastly improved by using a bit of logic to maximize the number of different writers that could be included. For example, why in God's name would you list three or four short story collections by Flannery O'Connor when you could just as easily list Collected Stories and then you could add three authors currently left off the list? By that same token, why list a bunch of Faulkner's novels singly when the Library of the Americas has produced a five-volume set that includes EVERYTHING? Anyway, one of the people left off the core list is a chap name of Chris Offutt. The name struck me as familiar, particularly when it mentioned that the author hailed from Kaintuck... While "Offutt"  isn't a super unusual name, it is different enough to be memorable, and what came back were pleasant memories of a chap name of Andrew J. Offutt, who was from Kaintuck, and while his major source of revenue came from writing porn, he was also known as a pretty fair writer of sword & sorcery fiction.

Back in the day (about the time of Arnie's first portrayal of Conan, the Robert E. Howard estate was going through all sorts of paranoia over both copyrights and trademarks. The copyright issue was nasty, as it was pretty demonstrable that the folks at Weird Tales just simply couldn't be bothered to renew their copyrights on all but a handful of individual issues. Trademark was an even dicier situation as the operating principle is "use it or lose it" and since the 1960s no one had done diddly as far as protecting the trademarks of ANY of Robert E. Howard's characters. The result was the biggest flurry of licensing characters that the publishing world has ever seen. If you could string sentences together in a vaguely coherent manner, than the Estate of Robert E. Howard wanted you to write something, Conan, Kull, Cormac MacArt, Turlough O'Brien, Red Sonja, Solomon Kane, it didn't matter... If REH had used the character back in the 1930s, the Estate wanted new stories and enter Andrew J. Offutt...

A complete throwback to the days of the pulps, Offutt was the kind of guy that could grind out a novel a weekend if he needed to. He certainly wasn't the only guy that the Howard Estate gave gigs to, everyone from well-established authors such as Poul Anderson and Karl Edward Wagner to unknowns like Robert Jordan* and David C. Smith lined up to infuse new life into the Howard characters. Andrew Offutt wasn't the best-known by any means, but he was the most prolific, juggling two or three series at a time. Within a decade the Howard people calmed down, realizing that they had a lock on the characters and with the licensing to Marvel Comics, things cooled off and Andy Offutt went back to porn... Now his son is writing Southern Gothic novels and short stories as well as scripting shows like "True Blood". He has an article form the New York Times magazine, discussing his dad's porn career... Sounds like the elder Offutt was writing some pretty twisted stuff, might be worth checking out... There's a lot of SF and horror writers of his generation that did the porn thing, usually pretty inventive stuff within the limitations of the genre... You've got writers the stature of Robert Silverberg, Philip Jose Farmer, Barry Malzberg, Brian McNaughton, etc. all known for churning out reams of the stuff. In McNaughton's case he fused the genres of horror and porn, coming up with a trilogy of Cthulhu Mythos novels that would have given Lovecraft a heart attack at the very least.  Anyway, with a heritage like that I can't imagine Chris Offutt being anything less than really, really interesting...

 

 

*Yes, that Robert Jordan.

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Dagon by Fred Chappel is a pretty interesting read. The title would make you expect some full-on Lovecraft, but instead you get a story of Southern decadence and inbred hillbillies. Decent prose, too, perhaps because Chappel is also an English prof and a poet.

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Dagon by Fred Chappel is a pretty interesting read. The title would make you expect some full-on Lovecraft

 

I NEED TO READ THIS!

 

Dagon by Fred Chappel is a pretty interesting read. The title would make you expect some full-on Lovecraft, but instead

 

... Eh, never mind.

 

Dagon by Fred Chappel is a pretty interesting read. The title would make you expect some full-on Lovecraft, but instead you get a story of Southern decadence and inbred hillbillies. Decent prose, too, perhaps because Chappel is also an English prof and a poet.

 

I NEED TO READ THIS!

 

I'm almost finished with Matthew Guinn's The Resurrectionist. Really good stuff. Thanks again for the tip, OSJ.

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Oh let me second the love for Fred Chappel. Centipede Press just put out a huge omnibus that includes all of his stories that could be considered weird as well as the novel Dagon. If you want a beautiful volume for your shelf you can't go wrong on this one. The retail is $200 but if you want one, and are serious, call Centipede Press, tell 'em John Pelan sent you and Jerad will probably cut you a deal.

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Relevant to nothing, but considering two of the great masters of the Southern Gothic, Fred Chappel and Harry Crews were/are also academics, Chappel an English prof. and Crews, (I believe, creative writing at Florida Gainesville). Which gentleman would be cooler to study under? There are certainly advantages to both... I can envision long discussions with Fred Chappel on life, literature, and so on. I can also see a pleasant evening of snorting bathtub crank and mainlining Jack Daniels with Harry Crews, the conversation would be surreal...

 

 

 

Dagon by Fred Chappel is a pretty interesting read. The title would make you expect some full-on Lovecraft, but instead you get a story of Southern decadence and inbred hillbillies. Decent prose, too, perhaps because Chappel is also an English prof and a poet.

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I'm going to have to post this under "What Are You Reading". For a little detour from the novels I thought Tom Franklin's collection Poachers might make for a nice break. And so it was until I got to the titular novella... Holy Mother of God!!! How does this not have some sort of warning label attached? Fuck, just fuck!!! This is just maybe the darkest, nastiest shit I've ever read and Ed Lee and I did the scary rednecks thing for over a decade. I knew Tom Franklin could bring the darkness and the ultra-violence when he wanted to, but nothing like this. Simply an incredible read, you'll probably want several showers after finishing it, but it's well worth your time. Jesus, what a fucked up world we live in...

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Oh let me second the love for Fred Chappel. Centipede Press just put out a huge omnibus that includes all of his stories that could be considered weird as well as the novel Dagon. If you want a beautiful volume for your shelf you can't go wrong on this one. The retail is $200 but if you want one, and are serious, call Centipede Press, tell 'em John Pelan sent you and Jerad will probably cut you a deal.

Can't find a table of contents for that Chappell collection.

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I will search the website. If that doesn't work, I will drag my lazy ass approximately seven feet to the shelf that houses A-G and grab my copy. Howzat?

Oh let me second the love for Fred Chappel. Centipede Press just put out a huge omnibus that includes all of his stories that could be considered weird as well as the novel Dagon. If you want a beautiful volume for your shelf you can't go wrong on this one. The retail is $200 but if you want one, and are serious, call Centipede Press, tell 'em John Pelan sent you and Jerad will probably cut you a deal.

Can't find a table of contents for that Chappell collection.

 

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For fuck's sake... Mine is still shrink-wrapped... What I won't do for my DVDR brethern (and I have a shrink-wrap machine in the living room, so it will give Mrs OSJ something to do besides playing that infernal Candy Crunch nonsense.) Here goes:

 

Dagon  (You still put novels in italics even when they're part of another book, right?)

Duet

Linneaus Forgets

Ladies from Lapland

The Snow that Is

Nothing in the Triangle

Barcarole

Weird Tales

The Somewhere Doors

The Adder

Ember

Miss Prue

Mankind Journeys Through Forests of Symbols (Okay Fred, we'll allow one pretentious title per book, don't do it again.)

Alma

After Revelation

The Lodger

The Flame

Gift of Roses 

Remnants

Uncle Moon in Raintree Hills

Hooyoo Love

The White Cat

Poems (and no, I'm not going to list them)

Interview & articles, pictures and assorted goodies 

 

Well over 400 pages and these are oversized books, so the novel Dagon which runs to 300 pages in a normal book is like 120 pages here.

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Dude, that was unnecessary, but awesome. Thanks. It's frustrating that the website doesn't include a table of contents. I can in no way afford even a discounted edition of that book, but I'd like to track down some of the stories all the same.

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Funny thing is, except for the 1st edition of Dagon, Fred's books are cheap. You can probably find several collections in hardcover for under ten bucks. abebooks.com is your friend. "Unnecessary but awesome" has been applied to me previously.

 

 

Dude, that was unnecessary, but awesome. Thanks. It's frustrating that the website doesn't include a table of contents. I can in no way afford even a discounted edition of that book, but I'd like to track down some of the stories all the same.

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  • 10 months later...

This is shipping now! I am watching my mailbox with great anticipation. Lots of people have one great book in them and then nothing... The fact that Pollock has produced one great novel and one great short-story collection gives me high hopes that he's the real deal, perhaps the second coming of William Gay...

 

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  • 1 month later...
On 8/13/2016 at 10:12 PM, JRGoldman said:

OSJ, how was this? I loved his first two books, but I haven't picked this up yet. 

Go get a copy right now. Sophomore slump? Second novel jinx? Our man Pollock ain't having none of that shit. In some ways The Devil All the Time hit harder because I had no idea what I was getting into, whereas with this one you sort of know the kind of thing that Pollock's going to do, (you're just not sure HOW). I burned through all 360 pages in about six hours, did not take phone calls, did not answer door, ignored cats. Yeah, a great book will do that for me. Nobody since Harry Crews has done broken, twisted, fucked-up people as convincingly as Pollock, just amazing character studies. The frightening thing is that they come off as totally real.

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