Yesterday we visited all of the Londons of my imagination – and today I’ll talk about a place that couldn’t be more different if it tried – the swampy, violent, and often murderous, version of the American South that is found in Southern Gothic books. Books set in this region get their own square. In my mind, it all looks like the bayou and, well, there are ghosts.
Is this why William Faulkner wrote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I’ve had this square on my card twice:
In 2020, I read Amy Engel’s The Familiar Dark, a murder mystery set in the Ozarks of Missouri. I wrote “I’m not sure how much I actually liked this book. It was set in a small meth-devastated town full of awful people in the Missouri Ozarks, though, so it was perfect for this square,” and, as well, I’ll admit that I barely remember this book a year later. As such, I can’t recommend it.
Southern Gothic didn’t appear on my card in 2019, but in 2018 I read Sharyn McCrumb’s The Ballad of Frankie Silver, which is part of her Ballad series set in Appalachia. Most of them are set in Dark Hollow, Tennessee, but this one takes place in North Carolina. I’ve read at least three of these books and they are universally good.
There are other books that I’ve read for other squares that I can also recommend, most especially Blackwater: the Complete Caskey Family Saga by Michael McDowell which is an incredibly atmospheric piece of southern gothic horror, with a really unique voice. I am not a horror fan. I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I loved it so much that another book by McDowell is on my short list for this category this year. I also read Be Buried in the Rain, by Barbara Michael, a gothic romance set at a Virginia plantation called Maidenwood, where terrible family secrets are about to be uncovered.
So, for 2021, I am choosing from:
The Elementals is set on the Gulf Coast, and concerns two families from Mobile, Alabama, the McCrays and the Savages, who have been spending their summers in a pair of Victorian homes on a spit of land called Beldame, on the Gulf Coast, for years. There is a third, abandoned, summer home that is slowly disappearing into the encroaching sand, which houses a “vicious horror which is shaping nightmares from the nothingness that hangs in the dank, fetid air.” Yikes.
The other possibility that I’m considering is a piece of magical realism, Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece, set in Morgan’s Gap, in Appalachia. I really want to read this book, but my library says that it won’t be available to check out as an ebook for 16 weeks, which is well-past my Halloween Bingo cut off. On the other hand, I did place a hold for the print version, which should show up at my branch in the next few days.