Now, before we get started, you've read To Kill a Mockingbird, right? You have? Great. It's one of the most accessible books that southern gothic has to offer, but you're a seasoned reader so let me show you some other options you've got out there in no particular order:
DELIVERANCE (Yes, it's a book - not just a fantastic movie).
If you've seen the movie don't think for a second that you know what the book is about. You don't. You'll recognize some landmarks (if you know what I mean), but you'll soon realize that the main storyline of the movie is nothing but the backstory of James Dickey's novel. It's told from the viewpoint of Ed Gentry, a New York ad man, who finds himself in the backwoods on an ill-fated canoe trip.
Is the writing any good? You be the judge:
HANDCARVED COFFINS (Short story, in a collection)
Truman Capote is far and away my favorite author, and he holds this distinguished position because of this particular short story. He claimed it to be a work of non-fiction, but that claim too turns out to be fiction. Now that we've gotten that bit of housework out of the way, allow me to celebrate the greatness of this story. It's an exercise in simplicity - a significant departure from the verbosity of the typical southern gothic work. Although Capote wrote about many locations - this one taking place in the Midwest - I consider everything of his to belong to the genre because his southern voice and storytelling can't be separated from the narrative.
So what's the fuss all about?
Oh, I don't know - just a serial killer who sends his victims a small hand-carved coffin days before their certain demise. It's an eerie story, especially when we're certain of who the killer is. But can the case against this person be proven? Does it even matter? In Capote's own words from the story: "God's work. God's will."
This story can also be found in one of Capote's largest collections, Portraits and Observations.
A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND (Not a love story. At all).
Oh, Flannery. You beautiful, twisted woman. She is the southern gothic genre. Right from the very beginning, no matter how light-hearted the writing is, you just know down deep inside to not get too attached to anyone. The beauty of her writing is that no matter what happens to her protagonists or antagonists the reader is left whole - a more complete person than when they began the story. A Good Man is Hard to Find is the most extreme example of that among her works although it has stiff competition.
What did Flannery have to say about her writing?
I'm glad she used the word "comic" in that quote because that's a word that comes to mind while reading this particular short story. It's violent. It's comical. It's one of the best that southern gothic has to offer.
A Good Man is Hard to Find can also found here.
By no means are these the the end-all and be-all of southern gothic fiction, but they're a great starting place to see what makes this genre worthwhile. What books or short stories have you enjoyed from the genre?