RE: RARA-AVIS: Southern Gothic

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 28 Feb 2003

Mark wrote: miker, nice summary of the overlap between Southern Gothic and noir. I'm curious, would you include one of your faves, Nightmare Alley? (One of these days, I've got to get around to reading that.) The reason I ask is because of its carnival setting. A friend of mine praises Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, set within a freak show, as a prime example of contemporary Southern Gothic. I haven't read it, either. I have read Freezer Burn by Joe Lansdale, also set in a carnival, and it seems to fit your definition.
************ I wouldn't include NIGHTMARE ALLEY because it didn't seem to be "distinctly" Southern. But keep in mind the Southern Gothic definition I came up with is based on a very limited amount of reading.

I have been thinking about the common themes in the four books I have read that I thought had the feel of Southern Gothic. I think one is the rejection of the noble savage concept. Southern Gothic believes that when you peel away civilization, you end up with a person with Conrad's heart of darkness. Even with this common thread, the books are vastly different from each other.

TOBACCO ROAD has more of a heart of emptiness. They aren't willfully mean and wicked. It's just that poverty and laziness and apathy has turned them into something less than human.

Crews's FEAST OF SNAKES is a Southern twist to O'Hara's theme in APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA. A character chafes from the harness of a restrictive, hypocritical, cruel society, and their con- flicting desires to both embrace this society and reject it leads to an unhealthy ending.

Dickey's DELIVERANCE has several characteristics of a quest novel. There is a trip. There is a superficial reason for the trip, which is to take a vacation and have an adventure. There is the real reason for the trip, which is always self- knowledge. They discover that the peaceful resistance of Gandhi or King only works against a halfway civilized opponent. Against the heart of darkness, violence must be met with violence. The realization of this is their salvation.
   Thanks for the comment on Dunn's GEEK LOVE, Mark. I'll put it on my list.


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