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Twilight by William Gay
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Oct 09, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: 1950s, 2014, southern-gothic, signed-first-edition, tennessee, the-rough-south, william-gay, moderator-s-choice, on-the-southern-literary-trail
Recommended to Lawyer by: The Author
Recommended for: Not for the squeamish.
Read from October 04 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy , read count: 2

Twilight: William Gay's Novel of Madness and Murder

“There’s folks you just don’t need. You’re better off without em. Your life is just a little better because they ain’t in it.”


 photo WilliamGay_zpscb297bea.jpg
William Gay, October 27, 1941-February 23, 2012, Hohenwald, TN

I had the good fortune to meet William Gay on two occasions. The first was on his book tour with Provinces of Night. I had read The Long Home when it appeared in paperback, recognized there was a special voice that had burst on the scene, and acquired a first edition of his first novel. When his anthology of short stories, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down: Collected Stories appeared I bought that too. Each work was an exceptional read. At the time I bought those first works by Gay, I had no idea if I would ever meet him or not.

Gay always struck me with his easy going way. His form of dress was unconventional. Both times I met him he was wearing carpenter's overalls, rough boots, and either a shirt of insulated underwear or a river neck shirt. I imagine it was a simple underwear shirt.

The last time I saw Gay was on his tour with Twilight. He sauntered in The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Alabama. He had added a checked flannel shirt to the outfit I had seen him in previously. Jake Reiss, the owner, asked him if he was about ready to get started. "Right after I go to the bath room and step outside to burn one. I waited for Gay to approach the door to the porch outside and asked if he minded company. "Naw. Come on." We went outside and burned a cigarette. I've never escaped that vice, nor apparently did he.

We talked a little about his books. I told him I had "The Long Home" and "I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down." He nodded. "I'm happy to sign them." Then he looked over and said, "Wait until you meet Sutter." I told him I'd be looking for him. "You can't miss him," Gay said.

We went inside. The signing began. Some folks didn't know what to make out of William Gay. He wasn't what they were accustomed to seeing at a book signing. I suppose that's one of the things I liked the best about him.

For what it's worth, "Let's burn one" entered my phrases of Southern idiom. I reserve it for my smoking friends. There are a few of us left. We huddle on the screened porch in the winter. A cup of hot coffee helps. If it's night time and the mercury's really dropping, a shot of whiskey in the coffee helps a little more. We sweat on the screened porch in the summer, trying to catch a breeze from old time oscillating fans. A glass of lemonade goes down good. We recognize we are persona non grata, and try to spare our non-smoking friends and loved ones the second hand hazards of our vice that we know is probably shortening our lives.

Call it a recognition of "twilight," an intimation of mortality. We are rather resigned to it. At one time or another all of us have said, "None of us is gettin' out of here alive."

When you read "Twilight" by William Gay, the image of twilight is repeated a number of times at key sections of the book. The timbre of the light changes, too. At times, the light is so obscured by mist you can't tell which way is up or down, or what direction you're headed. You're lost. Whether good or evil is going to prevail is any body's guess almost to the last page.

 photo Twilight_zps1f2cd345.jpg
Are you comfortable with the twilight of your life?

My grandmother always told me there's people in this world that just don't look quite right out of their eyes. Over the years, I learned she was right. There are those people you look into there eyes, and there's nothing behind them. There's no conscience, no sense of remorse. Fact is, they'd just as soon kill you as look at you.

William Gay draws you into a page turning frenzy. His prose is spare, lean, and devoid of words unnecessary to propel his story forward. Then the man can amaze you with vivid imagery that is more poetry than prose. You get the sense that each word has been carefully parsed from every other possible synonym that might have been dropped into the same place. But without that careful parsing, the words wouldn't have been right.

The novel is divided into two parts. For the sake of brevity, I'll call the first part "The Town, and the second part "The Harrikin." Each is a setting unique unto itself. Peopled with characters that you would not find in other than the place Gay put them. They wouldn't fit. That is, no one but Granville Sutter and Kenneth Tyler who become parts of both worlds.

The story line is fairly simple and straight forward. However, as you read it, you realize you are in the hands of a master writer.

THE TOWN

“The bodies of the newly dead are not debris nor remnant, nor are they entirely icon or essence. They are, rather, changelings, incubates, hatchlings of a new reality that bear our names and dates, our image and likenesses, as surely in the eyes and ears of our children and grandchildren as did word of our birth in the ears of our parents and their parents. It is wise to treat such new things tenderly, carefully, with honor.” --Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade


The time is 1951 in a small Tennessee Town.

Kenneth and Corrie Tyler, the offspring of bootlegger Moose Tyler have made a startling discovery. Fenton Breece, the town undertaker, got good money from the Tyler family to put Moose away right, including an expensive vault. At Corrie's insistence, she's had Kenneth dig up the grave. The vault's gone. Moose only has half a suit on. He's naked from the waist down. Somebody has mutilated him, taking his male unit and family jewels. The inspection of other graves yields further proof that Fenton Breece has some peculiar notions for dealing with the dead, male and female alike.

Breece is the butt of jokes of the town's men. His weak efforts of showing interest in women are rebuffed by raucous laughter. One citizen says, "You know Fenton Breece isn't lying when his mouth isn't moving."

Corrie makes it her mission to extract justice from Fenton Breece. Kenneth questions what she expects to accomplish. After all, Kenneth isn't that interested. His Daddy had been a terror to him when Kenneth was a child.

“What do you think we ought to do? she asked. Do? Put his sorry ass away. Tell the law and let them open the graves themselves. Put him away forever in some crazyhouse. They’d have to. You think they would? I know they would. What would you do with him? There’s supposed to be respect for the dead. It’s the way we evolved or something. It’s genetic. This man here…he wouldn’t cull anything. He’d do anything.”


Corrie's about right. Folks in these parts hold great respect for their dead. Go messin' with a cemetery or desecrating the corpse of a beloved ancestor is worse than stepping into a nest of yellow jackets.

Out in the country in the churchyards there are old sagging dinner tables that have been there most likely for generations. Attend a dinner on the grounds. Listen to the hymn singing and watch the living attend to the graves of their dead. In my county one old cemetery was vandalized. Ancient tombstones turned over and broken. Young people obviously. They had the bad sense to leave spray painted pentagrams identifying themselves as devil worshipers in the minds of the aggrieved. "No, we can't give'em the death penalty."

 photo Dinneronthegrounds_zpse1c97708.jpg
Dinner on the Grounds

Corrie confronts Fenton Breece.

“You buried my father, she began. He nodded unctuously. He couldn’t wonder what this was about. He remembered the girl, and he remembered the old man, but he couldn’t fathom what she wanted unless someone else was dead. He kept glancing at the purse, and he couldn’t remember if it had all been paid or not. Maybe she owed him money. Mann Tyler, she said. He had an insurance. We paid for an eight-hundred-dollar steel vault to go over his casket, and it’s not there anymore. The room was very quiet. She could hear rain at the window. Breece got up and crossed the room. He peereddown the hall and closed the door. He went back and sat down. His hands placed together atop the desk formed an arch. He was watching her and she could see sick fear rise up in his eyes. Just not there, she went on. And that’s not all. He’s buried without all the clothes we bought for him, and he’s been…mutilated. She just watched him. A tic pulsed at the corner of one bulging eye like something monstrous stirring beneath a thin veneer of flesh.”


“What do you want? You’re finished. You don’t begin to suspect how finished you are. When all these people hear about what you’ve done to their folks, they’re just going to mob you. They’d hang you, but you won’t last that long. They’ll tear you apart like a pack of dogs.”


Fenton sputters that he'll make things right. That he'll replace the vault, that he'll make reparations.

Tension ratchets up when Kenneth steals Breece's briefcase which holds the demented mortician's ugly secrets. There's an ugly stack of photographs. Fenton Breece is a necrophiliac. Fenton is capable of committing acts that raise the hair on the back of your neck. But he lacks the spine to get his own dirty secrets covered up.

As Gay said, "Wait till you meet Sutter."

Granville Sutter is one of those men my grandmother would have said didn't look right out of his eyes. He's gotten off of a murder charge on a lesser included offense. He has the knack of terrifying the populous of the entire town. When Sutter tells anyone he'll see them later, nothing good will come of it.

Breece cuts a deal with the devil. Get his photographs back, he'll pay Sutter $15,000.00. Sutter has no compunction about killing Corrie and Kenneth Tyler. They just don't know a hell hound is on their trail, yet.

Even Breece recognizes he's made a dangerous deal.

“It was the first time they had ever talked face to face and Breece divined in a moment of dizzy revelation something about Sutter that no one had noticed before. Why, he is mad, Breece thought. He’s not what people say about him at all. He’s not just mean as a snake or eccentric or independent. He’s as mad as a hatter, and I don’t know how they’ve let him go so long.”


Something happens to put Corrie into the clutches of Fenton Breece. Don't ask me. I'm not telling.

The HARRIKIN

“When Tyler fled and Sutter pursued him, this was the closest thing to a wilderness there was, and there was really no thought of going anywhere else, and as these fugitives, mentor and protégé, fled from a world that still adhered to form and order they were fleeing not only geographically but chronologically, for they were fleeing into the past.”


Mentor and protégé? Wait. Are you feeling a bit uneasy?

 photo Harrikin_zps0968da4e.jpg
The Harrikin, where a man gets lost, where a compass won't show true north

It's a one on one contest between Kenneth Tyler and Granville Sutter. Kenneth is on his way to Ackerman Field where there's a Sheriff Bellwether who can't be bought. There's a District Attorney itching to bring Sutter to justice, too.

All Kenneth has to do is cross the Harrikin, a tangled wilderness, where it's so easy to lose one's way. People have gone in there and never come out of there again. Folks who live there now don't want to be found. They don't have social security numbers, don't care for the government, and the government long ago lost interest in them. It started in 1933 with a storm, a tornado or hurricane that blew into Tennessee up from Alabama.

It is a world that might have been the creation of the Brother's Grimm. Perhaps, Hieronymous Bosch. It is haunted by abandoned towns. It is a world of abandoned mines with shafts overgrown by weeds, where a man might step, slip, and never be heard to hit the bottom. A witch woman lives deep in the heart of the Harrikin.

Nearby is the old Perrie Mansion, formerly the scene of many a ball and party. Until a balcony filled with merrymakers were spilled from it when it collapsed. Now the witch woman tells Kenneth that on some nights you can still hear the music, the laughter, and then the screams.

The witch woman advises Kenneth,

“There’s somethin about you. Some folks say more than they know. You say considerable less. There’s somethin about you, and I don’t know if it’s a great good or a great evil. Well. You being a witch and all, looks like you’d know. I would if you wadn’t blockin it out. You’re hidin somethin.”


There's things in this world better let alone. Things sealed away and not meant to be looked upon. Lines better not crossed, and when you do cross 'em you got to take what comes."


There is Bookbinder, the old man who raises goats and keeps them as pets. He shares coffee with Kenneth.

There is a family, mother, father, daughter, son. They feed Kenneth.

On the chase for Kenneth, Sutter will encounter many that Kenneth has met. Some will live. Some will die.

From time to time Sutter will sleep. His sleep is troubled by dreams.

"After a while he slept or thought he slept. He dreamed or dreamed he did. Anymore the line between dreams and reality was ambiguous at best. For years he'd felt madness sniffing his tracks like an unwanted dog he couldn't stay shut of. He'd kick it away and it would whimper and cower down spinelessly and he'd go on, but when he looked back over his shoulder it would be shambling toward him, watching him with wary apprehension but coming on anyway."


A reckoning is coming. William Gay's prose drives you relentlessly to a haunting conclusion. When you've reached the end, ask yourself a question. If one contends with evil too much, too long, can you escape without being caught in its tendrils? Gay leaves the reader much to ponder.

One last word of advice. If a 1950 Black Buick Roadmaster pulls up and you're hitchin' a ride, keep walkin'.

 photo 1950BuickRoadmaster4-doorSedan_zpsef8dd3e7.jpg

EXTRAS! EXTRAS!

William Gay's NYTimes Obituary, February 29, 2012

William Gay (1941-2012) A Tribute from Oxford American, March 8, 2012

So Lost: At Home with William Gay

William Gay talks about his life and reads at the Clarksville Writer's Conference, 2010

William Gay reads from Twilight at the Clarksville Writer's Conference, 2011

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Quotes Lawyer Liked

William Gay
“Patton’s store. A grinning man would halt the wagon with an upraised arm but it would not halt. When he noticed the quiltcovered cargo the wagon transported, he called, What you got there, Sandy? The driver turned and spat and wiped his mouth and glanced back briefly but he didn’t stay the wagon. Dead folks, he said.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“What do you think we ought to do? she asked. Do? Put his sorry ass away. Tell the law and let them open the graves themselves. Put him away forever in some crazyhouse. They’d have to. You think they would? I know they would. What would you do with him? There’s supposed to be respect for the dead. It’s the way we evolved or something. It’s genetic. This man here…he wouldn’t cull anything. He’d do anything.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“You buried my father, she began. He nodded unctuously. He couldn’t wonder what this was about. He remembered the girl, and he remembered the old man, but he couldn’t fathom what she wanted unless someone else was dead. He kept glancing at the purse, and he couldn’t remember if it had all been paid or not. Maybe she owed him money. Mann Tyler, she said. He had an insurance. We paid for an eight-hundred-dollar steel vault to go over his casket, and it’s not there anymore. The room was very quiet. She could hear rain at the window. Breece got up and crossed the room. He peereddown the hall and closed the door. He went back and sat down. His hands placed together atop the desk formed an arch. He was watching her and she could see sick fear rise up in his eyes. Just not there, she went on. And that’s not all. He’s buried without all the clothes we bought for him, and he’s been…mutilated. She just watched him. A tic pulsed at the corner of one bulging eye like something monstrous stirring beneath a thin veneer of flesh.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“What do you want? You’re finished. You don’t begin to suspect how finished you are. When all these people hear about what you’ve done to their folks, they’re just going to mob you. They’d hang you, but you won’t last that long. They’ll tear you apart like a pack of dogs.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“Then what had been at the bottom of his mind all along surfaced, like a rotten log in a swamp brought up by its own putrescent gases. A headline from last summer’s newspaper: LOCAL MAN INDICTED FOR MURDER. A measure of peace returned to him. A feeling of self-confidence, of being in good hands. Granville Sutter, he thought.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“What always got me about him was the way he could just slide out of anything. Killin, burnin, sellin whiskey. He sold bootleg whiskey out of the front door of his house for fifteen year and never even got arrested. They used to worry old man Moose Tyler to death raidin him and finally did send him up to Brushy Mountain for a year or two. Yeah. And killin folks. He told me one time, said, it’s more people than Fenton Breece can bury somebody. Everbody knowed he killed Clyde Conkle in cold blood, but he never drawed a day for it.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“It was the first time they had ever talked face to face and Breece divined in a moment of dizzy revelation something about Sutter that no one had noticed before. Why, he is mad, Breece thought. He’s not what people say about him at all. He’s not just mean as a snake or eccentric or independent. He’s as mad as a hatter, and I don’t know how they’ve let him go so long.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“What advice Phelan could possibly have given him. All these myriad differences between the world he was discovering and the world he’d been taught. There was nothing in Yeats or Eliot or Browning to cover this: had the situation been reversed, Phelan would probably have been coming to him for advice. He wondered how Eliot would have fared against the look in Sutter’s dead eyes.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“They’ve always told that when Granville was a boy he woke up one time in the middle of the night and she was settin on the side of the bed watchin him and she was holdin a butcher knife. Said she was watchin him, but it was like shewasn’t really seein him. He laid awake the balance of the night waitin to see what she’d do, then he took to sleepin in the woods or in the barn. Just wherever. She’d set up all night like she was studyin about somethin. They took to hidin all the knives.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“When Tyler fled and Sutter pursued him, this was the closest thing to a wilderness there was, and there was really no thought of going anywhere else, and as these fugitives, mentor and protégé, fled from a world that still adhered to form and order they were fleeing not only geographically but chronologically, for they were fleeing into the past.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“You might if you had a gun, he told Bookbinder. With his left hand the old man moved the shawl. It slid off his lap soundlessly onto the porch. He was holding trained on Sutter an enormous old dragoon revolver, and its hammer was thumbed back. It so surprised Sutter that he released his grip on the goat. When it jerked away and fled, Sutter looked down at the knife he was holding. It ain’t loaded, he said. I done a lot of foolish things in my life, Bookbinder said, but I ain’t never threatened to kill a man with a empty pistol.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“There’s somethin about you. Some folks say more than they know. You say considerable less. There’s somethin about you, and I don’t know if it’s a great good or a great evil. Well. You being a witch and all, looks like you’d know. I would if you wadn’t blockin it out. You’re hidin somethin.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“There was more wickedness in the world than you thought and you’ve stirred it up and got it on you, ain’t ye?”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“There’s things in this world better let alone. Things sealed away and not meant to be looked upon. Lines better not crossed, and when you do cross em you got to take what comes.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“Lying there sleeping on the mossy concrete, his face jerking with the troubled passage of his dreams, he is provisionally still brother to all humankind. He has strayed far from the ways of men but there has always been a kind of twisted logic to his violence. The things he desired and struggled for made a kind of sense. Revenge, avarice, a thirst for power. The things only dreamed by normal men. Their own secret thoughts made carnate and ambulatory. Silver threads, thin and frayed though they be, hold him yet to the ways of the world.”
William Gay, Twilight

William Gay
“He feared that beyond the quilted gray satin of the undertaker’s keep there was only a world of mystery that bypassed the comprehension of men and did not even take them into consideration. A world of utter darkness and the profoundest of silences.”
William Gay, Twilight


Reading Progress

10/04/2014 marked as: currently-reading
10/04/2014 page 1
0.0% "This read is a Moderator's Choice for Members of On the Southern Literary Trail along with Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," and Davis Grubb's "The Night of the Hunter." Hitchcock said, “Fear isn't so difficult to understand. After all, weren't we all frightened as children?" It's the month for a good scare. Come join us on The Trail. Bring a light. It's dark out there." 3 comments
10/07/2014
65.0% "“There’s things in this world better let alone. Things sealed away and not meant to be looked upon. Lines better not crossed, and when you do cross em you got to take what comes.” Out in the Harrikin, Kenneth Tyler has crossed Sutter who is out to kill him. Sutter, evil personified, who looks over his shoulder at the madness he knows is catching up to him. William Gay told me, "Wait till you meet Sutter.""
10/07/2014 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-23 of 23) (23 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ned (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ned Mozier This review honors the man and his art. Thank you Mike!


message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted I seldom read such a lengthy review to the end, Mike. This one I did. ;?


message 3: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Fineisen Love the review and the vivid recollections. So much that I bought it immediately. Isn't that what an exceptional review should do, evoke such strong emotion that the review reader needs connection? Way out of my usual comfort zone, too. I usually avoid the Sutters.


message 4: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Mike, I could perfectly visualise the hollow glances, the haunted villages with endless pits and sense the lurking dark forces gathering around me as I advanced reading. Absolutely spectacular selection of shots that make of this review a multi-sensorial experience. A terrific review.


Ctgt Wonderful review Mike. This was my first William Gay and it was quite an introduction. We certainly did "meet" Sutter!


Diane Barnes Great review, Mike. Keep 'em coming.


Lawyer Ned wrote: "This review honors the man and his art. Thank you Mike!"

Ned, you are most welcome. It's unfortunate that we have such few works by William Gay. Each one is memorable. Most agree that Provinces of Night is his finest work. However, you've had a great introduction to William Gay. His final work was to the publisher and will be a posthumously issued novel. I will miss seeing him again.


Lawyer Ted wrote: "I seldom read such a lengthy review to the end, Mike. This one I did. ;?"

*laughing* Thanks for your perseverance, Ted. Consider it a Southerner's penchant for story tellin'. Should you read Twilight, watch for the influence of Cormac McCarthy, whom Gay admired greatly. Reading "Twilight" I wondered if Gay's seed of inspiration might be McCarthy's Child of God.


Lawyer Heather wrote: "Love the review and the vivid recollections. So much that I bought it immediately. Isn't that what an exceptional review should do, evoke such strong emotion that the review reader needs connection..."

Heather, thank you so much for your time in reading the review and your kind comments. William Gay is an author to be discovered. If this review got you to give Twilight a shot, my job is done. *smile. And about avoiding "Sutters," they're out there, you don't know it until you meet them. *ahem* Consider your read a survivor's guide. *wicked grin*


Lawyer Dolors wrote: "Mike, I could perfectly visualise the hollow glances, the haunted villages with endless pits and sense the lurking dark forces gathering around me as I advanced reading. Absolutely spectacular sele..."

Dolors, your comments always lift my spirits and let me know when I am on the mark. You do know, I hope, I consider you an essential sounding board. As always, my thanks.


Lawyer Ctgt wrote: "Wonderful review Mike. This was my first William Gay and it was quite an introduction. We certainly did "meet" Sutter!"

Many thanks, Chris, (hope I remembered correctly). I recommend all of William Gay's work highly. We read his first novel, The Long Home some time ago. I hope Twilight will be your inspiration to return to the world of William Gay. His short stories are remarkable. See, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down: Collected Stories.


Lawyer Diane wrote: "Great review, Mike. Keep 'em coming."

Thanks, Diane! I'll do my best to keep 'em flying. I've enjoyed seeing the reaction of folks to October's Moderators' Choices. Next up, "A Rose for Emily." You beat me to it. *grin*


message 13: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh Favorite line from this outstanding review = He wasn't what they were accustomed to seeing at a book signing.


Lawyer Josh wrote: "Favorite line from this outstanding review = He wasn't what they were accustomed to seeing at a book signing."

Thanks, Josh. The "glitterati" miss out on a lot because of that, too. They expect a string of pearls on lady authors and men should have the good grace to be in gabardine trousers with a tattersall checked shirt, collar buttoned down, preferably. *chuckle*


message 15: by Ctgt (last edited Oct 09, 2014 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ctgt Mike wrote: "Ctgt wrote: "Wonderful review Mike. This was my first William Gay and it was quite an introduction. We certainly did "meet" Sutter!"

Many thanks, Chris, (hope I remembered correctly). I recommend..."


Thanks for the recommendation Mike. I already have "Provinces" and TLH on my tbr. And you did remember correctly!


message 16: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Sir Michael this sounds utterly fantastic. Keetenesque in fact. You know how much I love gothic novels whether they are modern or several centuries old. Relentless is a word that sticks out for me regarding this book and this superb review.

I think it would be a good idea if you would send me that first edition, first printing signed copy of Twilight. I hear the humidity is horrible to the books down your way. I will tuck it in my climate controlled library and when you come up for a visit you can visit your book too. :-)


Lawyer Jeffrey wrote: "Sir Michael this sounds utterly fantastic. Keetenesque in fact. You know how much I love gothic novels whether they are modern or several centuries old. Relentless is a word that sticks out for me ..."

Sir Geoffrey, the kindness of your offer simply overwhelms me. And the Queen and I have a hankering to visit. However, the library/bunker is fully insulated, vapor barriered, the AC and the dehumidifier are humming. *chuckle* This IS in your many categories of favored genres. Gothic to the max. Highly recommended for you. Now I must check out this review by a fellow from Kansas on that new Korda biography of Lee. Let's see...


message 18: by Michael (new)

Michael Quite a satisfying review and a great service to people like me who haven't read Gay. Bravo for such delving so much without using the "F" word, "Faulkner". Like the air one breathes, it goes without saying, and even Shakespeare's river had its own headwaters. Sometime I would love to hear why literature from the South is so concerned with the corrupting forces of evil. Some would say that slavery and aristocracy are the biggest factors, but no hint of those themes are evident in your review for this one.


Lawyer Michael wrote: "Quite a satisfying review and a great service to people like me who haven't read Gay. Bravo for such delving so much without using the "F" word, "Faulkner". Like the air one breathes, it goes wi..."

Michael, my thanks for your thoughtful and astute comment regarding William Gay. I always find your observations the foundation of interesting points of discussion. It would be easy to resort to William Faulkner. Many critics have.

However, I don't find it necessary. Gay was particularly influenced by Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor. William Gay gave a particularly interesting interview regarding his interest in McCarthy. Gay did not begin writing until he was in his fifties. At the time he got the Knoxville phone directory. Cormac McCarthy's number was listed. Hard to believe. Gay called him. McCarthy answered. McCarthy wouldn't discuss his own work, but they discussed literature in general. The author they discussed the most was Flannery O'Connor.

I consider Gay's primary influences to have been McCarthy and O'Connor, especially in terms of the sub-genre of Southern Gothic literature.

Faulkner certainly had his Gothic side. Think A Rose for Emily. Some consider As I Lay Dying Gothic. I do not. However, nothing in Faulkner deals with the question of good and evil to the degree in which McCarthy and O'Connor address it.

Where Gay is concerned, and, for that matter, McCarthy and O'Connor are concerned, the issues of slavery and broken down aristocracy do not enter into their literature as they do in Faulkner's literature. Rather, the issue of evil in Faulkner approaches more the banal for me. How evil is Snopesism? Was Emily evil, or demented? Perhaps the closest to actual evil was Popeye in Sanctuary. Of course, Temple Drake has her sins to answer for in Requiem for a Nun.

But compare that to Gay, McCarthy, and O'Connor. Look at Twilight, Child of God, andA Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Consider their respective characters: Granville Sutter, Lester Ballard, and The Misfit. In O'Connor's terminology, these individuals are "freaks." I don't have to resort to traditional Southern burdens of slavery and the breakdown of aristocratic tradition. I only look to O'Connor's words:

“Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn't convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose


And, consider this comment from McCarthy:

"There's no such thing as life without bloodshed," McCarthy says philosophically. "I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous."-From Cormac McCarthy's Venomous Fiction, Richard B. Woodard, New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1992


That's how I am able to avoid those traditional themes in my interpretation of the writing of William Gay. Perhaps, too much information. However, your comments always get my thoughts going. I appreciate that very much.


message 20: by Michael (new)

Michael ...It would be easy to resort to William Faulkner. Many critics have. However, I don't find it necessary. Gay was particularly influenced by Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor...Where Gay is concerned, and, for that matter, McCarthy and O'Connor are concerned, the issues of slavery and broken down aristocracy do not enter into their literature as they do in Faulkner's literature. Rather, the issue of evil in Faulkner approaches more the banal for me...."

Great synthesis! I knew I could count on you to elucidate something I long wondered about. Not too much information--a lawyer's brief is as long as it needs to be. Thanks for taking the time and effort.


message 21: by Jay (new) - added it

Jay I've only read one of Gay's novels and found it exceptional, although slow going. Your review convinced me that I need to add at least another of his works to my "To Read" list. Your description of your encounter with him was engaging: thanks for that personal reflection.


Lawyer Jay wrote: "I've only read one of Gay's novels and found it exceptional, although slow going. Your review convinced me that I need to add at least another of his works to my "To Read" list. Your description ..."

Jay, thanks for reading and commenting. I miss William Gay. He was truly an exceptional presence and voice in contemporary Southern literature. Gay's works are always worth another go. If you've not read his short stories, I highly recommend I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down: Collected Stories.


message 23: by Jay (new) - added it

Jay Mike wrote: "Jay wrote: "I've only read one of Gay's novels and found it exceptional, although slow going. Your review convinced me that I need to add at least another of his works to my "To Read" list. Your ..."
Thanks for the recommendation. I am a fan of Cormac McCarthy and of Faulkner, whom I read in my salad days. To the extent that both authors can be classified as Southern Gothic, I do have some familiarity with the style. Gay cites both authors as models, but he truly has his own distinct voice. Your description of him fits my image of that voice. Again, thanks for the recommendation.


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