Southern Gothic


There is a long tradition of Southern Gothic writers that begins in the 20th century with William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. In the 21st century, we’ve got writers like Dorothy Allison and her Bastard out of Carolina or Daniel Woodrell with his Winter’s Bone, two of my all-time favorite books. Now, Katherine Faw Morris raises from the depths a truly awesome character, 13 year old Nikki Hawkins, our Young God.

a rough ride

southern gothic novel
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris. Image source: Goodreads

Young God can be a difficult book to enter. Nikki Hawkins isn’t like anyone I know. She doesn’t talk or think or act like it either. Still, she draws you into her world you can scarcely admit exists. A dead-end life headed straight for the cliff as fast as Nikki can push the gas pedal to the floor.

For a novel that came out in 2014, it’s eerily prescient: Hillbilly Elegy writ 13 year old small. The cards are stacked against Nikki from the get-go. Yet, if by some miracle, she should survive adolescence, Nikki would grow up to be a Trump supporter. In her world, the government is the enemy, drugs are a way of life and crime an incidental by-product.

mind the gap

Written with the blunt strokes of an ax, this novel is not for someone who needs the plot twists well signposted. Here’s the way Eimear McBride put it:

Short paragraphs, empty pages, disconnected sentences printed alone add an expressionistic, almost filmic quality to the already stark narrative. It’s a quick read but likely to leave even the sturdiest stunned because, as all good storytellers know, trusting the reader to fill in the gaps by themselves always leads to the most disconcerting conclusions of all.

This is the way I like my fiction. It’s how I hope to treat my own readers: as intelligent curious human beings. I learned that from Yiyun Li, author among others of Kinder than Solitude. She says that a writer and a reader need to meet each other halfway. It’s “propaganda” when the writer is trying too hard and “whispering” when she’s not.

You don’t mind a little groping in the dark, do you? Can you put two and two together? Whether or not that’s the case, if you like your Southern Gothic black and bubbling on a piece of tin foil, you’re home.