I’m in a weird mood lately. Work’s been weird, I feel constantly tired, and despite being in the middle of April, I’m freezing my ass off almost every day. My usual reaction to work stress is a deep desire to resign and move to the countryside where I’d work in a cornfield (mind you, in Britain cornfield can be any field where they go wheat, barely, oats and stuff like that… occasionally even actual corn, so knowing myself I’d find this whole thing highly annoying too), away from people. This week was different though. I had no thoughts, just a sheer sense of dread. I felt like the walls are closing in, I can’t breathe, my heart rate didn’t go below 100 all day, and felt torn between eating non-stop and throwing up.
When shit hits the fan, I usually browse books to calm my tits. I don’t know how, but it works. I’m pretty sure my colleagues can sense something, because they always proceed with caution when I’m surfing bookish website in the office. Whatever keeps them away, am I right?
The other day I came across a bunch of Southern Gothic and noir books that piqued my interest, even though I don’t normally read their kind. I guess it sort of makes sense.
What is Southern Gothic? Well, according to Wikipedia, there are many characteristics in Southern Gothic Literature that relate back to its parent genre of American Gothic and even to European Gothic. However, the setting of these works are distinctly Southern. Some of these characteristics are exploring madness, decay and despair, continuing pressures of the past upon the present, particularly with the lost ideals of a dispossessed Southern aristocracy and continued racial hostilities. It’s full of grotesque situations, a lot of violence, and dark humour. I say, it’s quite fitting for my present mood.
What do you think?
Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale
Here comes Trudy back into Hap’s life, thirty-six but looking ten years younger, with long blonde hair and legs that begin under her chin, and the kind of walk that’ll make a man run his car off the road. Here comes trouble, says Leonard, and he’s right.
She was always trouble, but she had this laugh when she was happy in bed that could win Hap over every time. Trudy has a proposition: an easy two hundred thousand dollars, tax-free. It’s just a simple matter of digging it up …Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, white and black, straight and gay, are the unlikeliest duo in crime fiction. Savage Season is their debut.
Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski
Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop still reeling from the revenge killing of his former partner’s entire family, fears one thing above all else: that he’ll suffer the same fate.
Languishing in self-imposed exile, Hardie has become a glorified house sitter. His latest gig comes replete with an illegally squatting B-movie actress who rants about hit men who specialize in making deaths look like accidents. Unfortunately, it’s the real deal. Hardie finds himself squared off against a small army of the most lethal men in the world: The Accident People.
It’s nothing personal-the girl just happens to be the next name on their list. For Hardie, though, it’s intensely personal. He’s not about to let more innocent people die. Not on his watch.
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrificial blood he pours on his “prayer log.”
There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right.
Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories by Frank Bill
Crimes in Southern Indiana is the most blistering, vivid, flat-out fearless debut to plow into American literature in recent years. Frank Bill delivers what is both a wake-up call and a gut punch. Welcome to heartland America circa right about now, when the union jobs and family farms that kept the white on the picket fences have given way to meth labs, backwoods gunrunners, and bare-knuckle brawling.
Bill’s people are pressed to the brink–and beyond. There is Scoot McCutchen, whose beloved wife falls terminally ill, leaving him with nothing to live for–which doesn’t quite explain why he brutally murders her and her doctor and flees, or why, after years of running, he decides to turn himself in. In the title story, a man who has devolved from breeding hounds for hunting to training them for dog-fighting crosses paths with a Salvadoran gangbanger tasked with taking over the rural drug trade, but who mostly wants to grow old in peace. As Crimes in Sourthern Indiana unfolds, we witness the unspeakable, yet are compelled to find sympathy for the depraved.
The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell
Shug Akins is a lonely, overweight thirteen-year-old boy. His mother, Glenda, is the one person who loves him–she calls him Sweet Mister and attempts to boost his confidence and give him hope for his future.
Shuggie’s purported father, Red, is a brutal man with a short fuse who mocks and despises the boy. Into this small-town Ozarks mix comes Jimmy Vin Pearce, with his shiny green T-bird and his smart city clothes. When he and Glenda begin a torrid affair, a series of violent events is inevitably set in motion. The outcome will break your heart.
Joe by Larry Brown
Joe Ransom is a hard-drinking ex-con pushing fifty who just won’t slow down–not in his pickup, not with a gun, and certainly not with women.
Gary Jones estimates his own age to be about fifteen. Born luckless, he is the son of a hopeless, homeless wandering family, and he’s desperate for a way out. When their paths cross, Joe offers him a chance just as his own chances have dwindled to almost nothing.
Together they follow a twisting map to redemption–or ruin.
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
Spanning a period from the mid-sixties to the late nineties, the linked stories that comprise Knockemstiff feature a cast of recurring characters who are woebegone, baffled and depraved but irresistibly, undeniably real.
Rendered in the American vernacular with vivid imagery and a wry, dark sense of humor, these thwarted and sometimes violent lives jump off the page at the reader with inexorable force. A father pumps his son full of steroids so he can vicariously relive his days as a perpetual runner-up body builder.
A psychotic rural recluse comes upon two siblings committing incest and feels compelled to take action. Donald Ray Pollock presents his characters and the sordid goings-on with a stern intelligence, a bracing absence of value judgments, and a refreshingly dark sense of bottom-dog humor.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
In his blistering new novel, Cormac McCarthy returns to the Texas-Mexico border, setting of his famed Border Trilogy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones.
One day, Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.
As Moss tries to evade his pursuers–in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives–McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines.
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry
Set in a small, dusty, Texas town, The Last Picture Show introduced the characters of Jacy, Duane, and Sonny: teenagers stumbling toward adulthood, discovering the beguiling mysteries of sex and the even more baffling mysteries of love.
Populated by a wonderful cast of eccentrics and animated by McMurtry’s wry and raucous humor, The Last Picture Show is a wild, heartbreaking, and poignant novel that resonates with the magical passion of youth.