Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Post by Sophia Hobbs - Southern Gothic: The Best Horror Writers, Stories and Series from Darkest Dixie

The illustrious Southern Writer Flannery O’Connor (more on her later) once said that “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” Those of us down under the Mason/Dixon line may understand her sentiment better than our Northern counterparts. Maybe it’s the spare, endless austerity of the Chihuahuan Desert in West Texas that gives you chills or the Spanish moss-draped, darkly Victorian plantations and crumbling cemeteries of New Orleans- its watershed prone to giving up the bones of the dead. Whatever the particulars, you may have experienced a certain venerable-seeming eeriness that feels particularly southern; one perhaps pronounced around the Halloween season. After all, there is no literary genre for “Northern Gothic”. So here is a Halloween-jitters-guaranteed collection of work from southern writers all too familiar with the dark side of Dixie.

Poppie Z. Brite; Calcutta: Lord of Nerves. Poppy Z. Brite is one of modern horror’s most skilled practitioners of putting the gory to legitimately scary use. Much of Brite’s gender-bending dark fiction takes place in her home city of New Orleans; although Calcutta: Lord of Nerves doesn’t. This Indian zombie-apocalypse tale is tinted darker by its comment on (in)human sexuality in its sometimes terrifying permutations.

Truman Capote; Tree of Night. Truman Capote is an excellently appropriate post-Poppy Brite inclusion. Both are New Orleans natives; both famous for the employment of the identity crises, confusion and panic engendered by sexuality as themes in their writing and both craft legitimately frightening fare. Although better known for his true-terror best-seller In Cold Blood, Capote’s short story collection A Tree of Night is a great one for the self-scare. Master Misery, about a man that buys (steals) dreams, is excellent but the collection’s eponymous short story about a young woman encountering a freakish couple on a train (they make their living reenacting the death and resurrection of Lazarus) who finds her evening increasingly descending into a cold, dark slip from reality is the creepiest of the lot.

Steve Dillon and Garth Ennis; The Preacher series. The Preacher graphic novel series by (the surprisingly) UK-stationed Ennis relays the journey of Jesse Custer- a Texas preacher unexpectedly possessed by a mad half-divine/half-diabolic entity which grants him a god-like power. Furious at the possession and state of the world, Custer sets out to scour the earth for God (Who’s fled heaven). The Preachers is accompanied by his reluctant hit-woman girlfriend and a hard-drinking, hard-brawling Irish vampire. They, in turn, are pursued by the Saint of Killers- the embodiment of vengeance- and The Grail, a secret society of immense power intent on both perpetuating the bloodline of Christ and concealing the fact that millennia of inbreeding have left Christ’s sole remaining descendent a developmentally-disabled sadist. A must read for fans of irreverent horror/humor.

William Faulkner; Sanctuary. There’s a widely agreed-upon distinction made by writers of the macabre between terror and horror and their individual merits; terror being preferable to horror. One of those writers described terror as the stomach-knotting, palm-sweating, teeth-grinding anxiety one would feel when knowingly about to discover a corpse. Horror is finding it- anticipation vs. revelation. Faulkner’s Sanctuary, about a woman taken captive by a sadistic and brutal bootlegger, is not a light-hearted gore-reveal horror story. It’s a perusal of terror and human weakness punctuated by moments of horror. It’s also William Faulkner and therefore excellent.

Charlaine Harris; The Southern Vampire Mystery Series; or the Sookie Stackhouse Novels; or their HBO adaptation True Blood. Of those in the list, Harris probably has the most public exposure and cachet at the moment because of HBO’s adaptation of her series about buxom, blonde psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse. Harris follows Sookie’s (mis)adventures, romances and clashes with the vampiric, lycanthropic and magical denizens of (the mythical) Bon Temps, Louisiana. Fans of the show should read the books and vice versa.

Joe R. Lansdale; Duck Hunt. Texas native, Joe Lansdale is another master of capturing the creepiness of the Southern milieu. And he’s never better than in the shocking study in male machismo, violence, coming-of-age and… duck hunting found in Duck Hunt. Excellent.

Flannery O’Connor; A Good Man is Hard to Find. O’Connor ranks among the true masters of the Southern Gothic- Capote, Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Cormac McCarthy, Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams. That her fame is well-deserved is nowhere more apparent than in A Good Man is Hard to Find in which a selfish, judgmental grandmother dooms her family and herself upon encountering an escaped killer.

Edgar Allen Poe; The Gold Bug. This tale of pirate treasure, possible insanity, cryptography and a gold bug is set on Sullivan Island in North Carolina and was written by Edgar Allen Poe. Enough said.

Sophia Hobbs, who can often be found performing poetry and attempting to manage a little rugrat, all the while still maintaining her work with and assisting her brother with his company which handles damage restoration in Dallas and Fortworth.

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