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So You Want to Read Southern Gothic: Here’s Where to Start

Antebellum homes, mint juleps, and lazy afternoons on the porch. That’s one vision of the South, but it isn’t the one we’re talking about today. No, today we’re discussing something darker: Southern Gothic, and more specifically, Southern Gothic horror and fantasy. In the world of the Southern Gothic, the Deep South is a deeply weird and haunted place: one of tumbledown mansions sinking into swamps, wild-eyed snake handling preachers, mad dog killers, restless spirits, old families with dark secrets, and closets full to bursting with skeletons. It’s spooky stuff, but the grotesque imagery serves a higher purpose: challenging the reader to acknowledge the centuries of violence and oppression that underpin the bucolic landscape of the Southern romantic ideal. Take a look at these Southern Gothic reads.
  1. 1
    A Choir of Ill Children Book Cover Picture
    A Choir of Ill Children Book Cover Picture

    A Choir of Ill Children

    by Tom Piccirilli

    Deep in the swampy backwaters of Kingdom Come, its richest resident, Thomas, shoulders the dual responsibilities of caring for his conjoined triplet brothers, and the crumbling mill that is the only source of employment for the lost souls that call the county home. They fear Thomas and the power they think he holds — even the granny witches cut him a wide path — but depend on him all the same. Thomas, mired in obligation, has no reason to think things will ever change, but a carnival is coming to town, and with it, a long overdue reckoning.
    A Choir of Ill Children Book Cover Picture
    A Choir of Ill Children Book Cover Picture

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  2. 2
    Beloved Book Cover Picture
    Beloved Book Cover Picture

    Beloved

    by Toni Morrison

    Former slave Sethe thought she left the past behind for good when she slipped past the border into the free state of Ohio, but the past doesn’t die so easily. Something terrible happened to Sethe’s baby — a nameless child that now lies under a tombstone marked by a single word: “Beloved”. What really happened is a secret, but the unexpected arrival of a teenaged girl named Beloved threatens to reveal all.
    Beloved Book Cover Picture
    Beloved Book Cover Picture

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  3. 3
    Swamplandia! Book Cover Picture
    Swamplandia! Book Cover Picture

    Swamplandia!

    by Karen Russell

    Karen Russell’s first novel combines Southern Gothic themes with a heavy dose of Magic Realism. Teenager Ava Bigtree always planned on joining the family business when she grew up: Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. That was before her mother, the park’s headliner, got sick. Now Swamplandia! is in trouble, and everything is falling apart at the seams. With her brother now working at a rival park, her sister head over heels in love, and her father incapable of providing any help, it is up to Ava to head deep into the swamp to try to salvage what’s left of Swamplandia! and the Bigtree family.
    Swamplandia! Book Cover Picture
    Swamplandia! Book Cover Picture

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  4. 4
    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Book Cover Picture
    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Book Cover Picture

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

    by Carson McCullers

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Book Cover Picture
    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Book Cover Picture

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  5. 5
    Light in August Book Cover Picture
    Light in August Book Cover Picture

    Light in August

    by William Faulkner

    Light in August Book Cover Picture
    Light in August Book Cover Picture

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  6. 6
    Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (LOA #39) Book Cover Picture
    Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (LOA #39) Book Cover Picture

    Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works

    by Flannery O’Connor

    In her short lifetime, Flannery O’Connor became one of the most distinctive American writers of the twentieth century. By birth a native of Georgia and a Roman Catholic, O’Connor depicts, in all its comic and horrendous incongruity, the limits of worldly wisdom and the mysteries of divine grace in the “Christ-haunted” Protestant South.
    Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (LOA #39) Book Cover Picture
    Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works (LOA #39) Book Cover Picture

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  7. 7
    Blood Meridian Book Cover Picture
    Blood Meridian Book Cover Picture

    Blood Meridian

    by Cormac McCarthy

    Cormac McCarthy’s masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians and sell those scalps. Loosely based on fact, the novel represents a genius vision of the historical West, one so fiercely realized that since its initial publication in 1985 the canon of American literature has welcomed Blood Meridian to its shelf.
    Blood Meridian Book Cover Picture
    Blood Meridian Book Cover Picture

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