Genre: Southern Gothic/Country Noir

Classic Curiosity – Light in August by William Faulkner

August 23, 2014 Bonnie Book Reviews, Classic Curiosity, Read in 2014 4 Comments

Classic Curiosity – Light in August by William FaulknerLight in August by William Faulkner
Published by Vintage on 1931
Pages: 507
Genres: Classics, Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” —William Faulkner
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

“…a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he’s already got. He’ll cling to trouble he’s used to before he’ll risk a change. Yes. A man will talk about how he’d like to escape from living folks. But it’s the dead folks that do him the damage. It’s the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he can’t escape from.”

Light in August, set in Faulkner’s oft used Yoknapatawpha County, follows three separate yet connected storylines that focus on race and violence in the deep South. The novel opens with a pregnant Lena Grove traveling the South on foot to find her baby’s father, a man she knows by the name of Lucas Burch but is actually named Joe Brown. She is led to a man named Byron Bunch who everyone thinks she must mean since no one they know is named Lucas Burch. He becomes quickly obsessed with Lena, wishes to marry her, and subsequently keeps her from the baby’s father. The second storyline focuses on Joe Christmas, a troubled man who is uncertain about his birth and believes himself to be half-black. He works at a local lumber mill but only in an attempt to disguise his illegal liquor business where he makes most of his money. He becomes partners with a man named Joe Brown. The third and final story to tie everything together is Gail Hightower, a local ex-minister after he became involved in a scandal that forever tarnished his name.

‘It is just dawn, daylight: that gray and lonely suspension filled with the peaceful and tentative waking of birds. The air, inbreathed, is like spring water. He breathes deep and slow, feeling with each breath himself diffuse in the neutral grayness, becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair.’

The novel is richly written, exquisitely descriptive and often times complex as it alternates being multiple individuals and also between their pasts and their present. Each separate story continues on its own path yet they are all skillfully and slowly intertwining leaving the reader oblivious to the obvious connections until the pieces finally come together at the end. The histories of each person may seem of little consequence but it only seeks to show how one’s past is what forms their future, and how it will forever haunt you. Faulkner succeeds in not only bringing to life the small town mentality but of a Southern small town in the 1920s with all its judgmental prejudices. Light in August is a tragic tale but completely unforgettable due to its ending that won’t go easy on your nerves. This is my first Faulkner and while it certainly wasn’t an easy read, it won’t be my last.



Audiobook Review – Deliverance by James Dickey

June 13, 2014 Bonnie Adult, Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Read in 2014 3 Comments

Audiobook Review – Deliverance by James DickeyDeliverance by James Dickey
Narrator: Will Patton
Published by Audible on 1970
Length: 7 hrs and 35 mins
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
Amazon | Audible


The setting is the Georgia wilderness, where the state's most remote white-water river awaits. In the thundering froth of that river, in its echoing stone canyons, four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare. And then, in a moment of horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance.

This classic tale is vividly read by movie and TV star and Audie Award-winning narrator Will Patton.

de·liv·er·ance [dih-liv-er-uhns]
: the state of being saved from something dangerous or unpleasant

Deliverance is the deceptively simplistic story of four ordinary men from Atlanta that decide to go on a canoe trip in the Georgia wilderness. The river they plan to traverse is destined to disappear soon because of a new dam that will flood the area. Soon into their trip, they encounter two men who live in the nearby mountains and their weekend wilderness adventure quickly morphs into a struggle for their very survival.

‘The river was blank and mindless with beauty. It was the most glorious thing I have ever seen. But it was not seeing, really. For once it was not just seeing. It was beholding. I beheld the river in its icy pit of brightness, in its far-below sound and indifference, in its large coil and tiny points and flashes of the moon, in its long sinuous form, in its uncomprehending consequence.’

Unlike most who have either read this book or experienced the movie, I went into this story completely blind, oblivious of the horrors to come. Being a fan of southern gothic fiction though, it was essential I read the original classic that helped to generate the genre. Published in 1970, Deliverance was Dickey’s first novel and the one he went on to be most known for. In 1965, he won the National Book Award in Poetry and those poetic abilities showed through the darkness of Deliverance. The surprisingly beautiful poetic quality added a much-needed delicacy to this tale so as to make it a much more agreeable read.

“Here we go, out of the sleep of the mild people, into the wild rippling water.”

The river itself, the Cahulawassee River, has much more symbolism than one would initially recognize. The Cahulawassee River is being forced into modern times and will cease to exist in a matter of weeks. These four men are forced into changes as well due to the harsh situations they are involuntary put through. It changes their mindset and state of being and forces them to make choices they never expected to have to make. These changes necessitated the realization that while they felt like ordinary men in comparison to the abominations that they faced, they were more than able to transform similarly all in the name of survival.

Deliverance is a dark and dismal read but is permeated with skillfully beautiful writing that makes it a completely necessary read for any fans of the genre.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock {PurchaseMy Review}
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy {PurchaseMy Review}
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad {Purchase}


Waiting on Wednesday – Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

May 21, 2014 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 4 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – Cry Father by Benjamin WhitmerCry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
Published by Gallery Books on September 16th 2014
Pages: 304
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover

Also by this author: Cry Father

In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown comes a haunting story about men, their fathers, their sons, and the legacy of violence.

For Patterson Wells, disaster is the norm. Working alongside dangerous, desperate, itinerant men as a tree clearer in disaster zones, he’s still dealing with the loss of his young son. Writing letters to the boy offers some solace. The bottle gives more.

Upon a return trip to Colorado, Patterson stops to go fishing with an old acquaintance, only to find him in a meth-induced delirium and keeping a woman tied up in the bathtub. In the ensuing chain of events, which will test not only his future but his past, Patterson tries to do the right thing. Still, in the lives of those he knows, violence and justice have made of each other strange, intoxicating bedfellows.

Hailed as "the next great American writer" (Frank Bill, author of Crimes in Southern Indiana), Benjamin Whitmer has crafted a literary triumph that is by turns harrowing, darkly comic, and wise.

About Benjamin Whitmer

Benjamin Whitmer was born in 1972 and raised on back-to-the-land communes and counterculture enclaves ranging from Southern Ohio to Upstate New York. One of his earliest and happiest memories is of standing by the side of a country road with his mother, hitchhiking to parts unknown. Since then, he has been a factory grunt, a vacuum salesman, a convalescent, a high-school dropout, a semi-truck loader, an activist, a kitchen-table gunsmith, a squatter, a college professor, a dishwasher, a technical writer, and a petty thief. He has also published fiction and non-fiction in a number of magazines, anthologies, and essay collections. Pike is his first novel.

He lives with his wife and two children in Colorado, where he spends most of his free time trolling local histories and haunting the bookshops, blues bars, and firing ranges of ungentrified Denver. Right now, he’s probably sitting with a book in hand, staring out his window and dreaming of a tar paper shack somewhere in the Rockies, about fifty miles removed from his nearest neighbor.

Comparing a book to Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown is instantly intriguing. The summary has a southern gothic/country noir feel so I’ll definitely be picking this one up.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me a link to your post and I’ll be sure to stop by!

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine


Waiting on Wednesday – Young God: A Novel by Katherine Faw Morris

March 5, 2014 Bonnie Waiting on Wednesday 5 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – Young God: A Novel by Katherine Faw MorrisYoung God: A Novel by Katherine Faw Morris
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR) on May 6th 2014
Pages: 208
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover

Also by this author: Young God, Ultraluminous: A Novel

Stripped down and stylized—Winter’s Bone plus Less Than Zero—the sharpest, boldest, brashest debut of the year

Meet Nikki, the most determined young woman in the Carolina hills. She’s determined not to let the expectations of society set her future; determined to use all the limited tools at her disposal to shape the world to her will; determined to preserve her family’s domination of the local drug trade despite the fact that her parents are gone. Nikki is thirteen years old.

Opening with a death-defying plunge off a high cliff into a tiny swimming hole, Young God refuses to slow down for a moment as it charts Nikki’s battles against the powers that be. Katherine Faw Morris has stripped her prose down to its bare essence—certain chapters are just a few words long—resulting in an electric, electrifying reading experience that won’t soon be forgotten. She quickly gets to the core of Nikki, her young heroine, who’s only just beginning to learn about her power over the people around her—learning too early, perhaps, but also just soon enough, if not too late.

Evoking the staccato, telegraphic storytelling style of James Ellroy but with the literary affect of a young Denis Johnson and a fierce sense of place worthy of Flannery O’Connor or Donna Tartt, Morris is a debut novelist who demands your attention—and Nikki is a character who will cut you if you let your attention waver.

With comparisons to Donna Tartt and Winter’s Bone, this went immediately onto my TBR list.

What are you waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me a link to your post and I’ll be sure to stop by!

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine


Early Review – The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

February 20, 2014 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Early Review, Read in 2014 4 Comments

I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Early Review – The Weight of Blood by Laura McHughThe Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
Published by Spiegel & Grau on March 11th 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: ARC
Source: the Publisher


For fans of Gillian Flynn and Daniel Woodrell, a dark, gripping debut novel of literary suspense about two mysterious disappearances, a generation apart, and the meaning of family-the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.

The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

The Weight of Blood is a dual-narrative story separated by decades with a startling likeness to one another. Lucy is struggling to deal with the death of her friend, Cheri, after her body was found in a creek. She had been missing for a year previous to the discovery and her body shows the signs of a truly destructive year. The second narrative is the almost two decades old story of Lila, an 18 year old girl who moves to Henbane after gaining employment by helping at the general store for Crete Dane. But that ends up being far from what she was truly hired to do.

In Part I, the chapters alternate between Lucy’s story in the present day and Lila’s story almost two decades in the past. This consistency helped in differentiating between the two stories that were different yet contained a similar cast of characters. When we get to Part II and III the chapters alternate between several different POVs and that made everything convoluted and it was difficult to figure out whether we were reading about the past or present.

The comparison to Winter’s Bone/Daniel Woodrell is what intrigued me initially but this is only fairly accurate. The main character in Winter’s Bone is Ree Dolly, an incredibly strong-willed heroine that is completely unforgettable. Lucy was a far cry from Ree. Lucy took it upon herself to investigate the death of her friend, but even when she had valuable evidence that should have been turned over to the police because she was clearly out of her element, she instead kept it to herself to her own detriment. The vividness of the Ozark’s was well done as was the depiction of the hidden peril that skulked underneath the facadé of this seemingly simple town.

The Weight of Blood falls under the category of Southern Gothic/Country Noir and it’s quickly become a favorite genre of mine. The Devil All the Time and Winter’s Bone are responsible for producing my fondness of the genre. Comparatively to those two, I would consider The Weight of Blood to be Southern Gothic ‘Lite’. The environmental depictions are spot-on as are the terrible things that go on unseen in this small town, but the author attempted redemption for the characters responsible for the evil, gave the evil doings an underlying meaning and that those actions had good intentions. If I’ve figured out anything about Southern Gothic novels it’s that ethics and morals have nothing to do with these stories and struggles between right and wrong are never existent. Justifying the evil doings was a misguided attempt at resolving the story.

The Weight of Blood is a Southern Gothic thriller I would recommend for fans of dual-narrative stories and suspenseful mysteries.


Banned Books Week – Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

September 24, 2013 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2013 1 Comment

Banned Books Week – Child of God by Cormac McCarthyChild of God by Cormac McCarthy
on January 1st 1973
Pages: 208
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eBook
Source: Library


In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail.  While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance.

“In October 2007, Child of God was removed from Tuscola, Texas’ Jim Ned High School and canceled from the school library’s order list after one student’s parents challenged the book’s inclusion and even registered an official complaint with the sheriff’s office charging the teacher who included the book on an optional reading list with providing material “harmful to minors” to their daughter. The parents objected to violence, sexual themes, and profanity in the book.”

‘Each leaf that brushed his face deepened his sadness and dread. Each leaf he passed he’d never pass again. They rode over his face like veils, already some yellow, their veins like slender bones where the sun shone through them.’

Lester Ballard is a man born into hardship and is seemingly cursed with tragedy. His mother leaves him and his father when he was young and he is the first to find his father’s body hanging from the rafters when he is just ten years old forcing him to seek help from the townsfolk to get his body down. This requires a quick advancement in maturity considering he’s all by himself and there’s no one left to care for him and the small town he resides in has no intention of doing him any favors.

Lester being made an outcast in his own community is one of the major themes of the novel. He’s constantly rejected by everyone for being strange and different yet he never fails to continue trying to find his place in the town. Their rejection and judgment becomes borderline cruel when he isn’t even accepted within the walls of the church. In addition to the desire for a place in the community, what he desires more is a connection with a woman and he receives nothing but disgust from the female gender. This ongoing rejection can easily be blamed for the reason he took the path he did because he grew up isolated and lacks any sort of moral compass or understanding of right and wrong. His first crime occurs when he stumbles upon the car of a man and a woman who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the midst of having sex. He decides to not only have sex with the woman but he takes her body back to his house. While it’s easy to be immediately repulsed, it’s actually quite rueful if you consider that this was the first woman he encountered in his life that didn’t immediately run from him in disgust. It’s deplorable, yes, but it’s also pitiable.

What’s most impressive is the fact that McCarthy is able to portray Lester as a morally perplexed human being rather than the quick to judge “psychopath” description that is equally fitting. It’s surprisingly difficult not to feel as least a modicum of pity for the man who was left to raise himself at the age of ten, was later tossed out of his own house and left with no where else to go and forced to live in an abandoned house that just barely protects him from the elements. While this obviously doesn’t excuse him from his horrible crimes (I don’t believe that was ever McCarthy’s intention anyways) it does depict him as an actual person, a child of God, and not a monster and that’s quite possibly even scarier.

McCarthy abandons literary standards by flipping between different writing styles seemingly at random and fails to utilize quotation marks which never fails to infuriate me. Trying to decipher who is talking and when they’re actually talking and not just thinking… that should never be an issue. The various use of prose strewn throughout the novel was definitely a break from the truly ugly story this was and was most welcome.

This book came under fire when a teacher in Tuscola, Illinois asked his Freshman aged pre-Advanced Placement students to choose the book they wish to read for a book report. The parents of a young girl were so offended by the material that the teacher provided their 14 year-old child that they filed an official complaint with the sheriff’s office. From what I can find, no charges stuck with the teacher but this is still appalling. While I can agree this book covers material that may not be suitable for a 14 year old (The main character kills several people and rapes the corpses of women. Another character rapes his daughter.) however I think in this case monitoring of reading material should be handled by the parents. They could have easily had their child pick another book from the list. Charges against the teacher? That’s ludicrous. In addition to that, the banning of this book (or any book) only limits how a person is informed and prevents sheltering an individual from the harsh realities of the world. This story is inspired by actual events in Sevier County, Tennessee so while I don’t believe it’s the best book for a young person, I do not believe it should be banned because I’d rather have a child that’s informed and aware about the world rather than one that walks this Earth oblivious.


Book Review – Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

July 27, 2013 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2013 6 Comments

Book Review – Winter’s Bone by Daniel WoodrellWinter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Published by Back Bay Books on July 11th 2007
Pages: 225
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


Meet Ree Dolly -- not since Mattie Ross stormed her way through Arkansas in True Grit has a young girl so fiercely defended her loved ones. Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly has grown up in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks and belongs to a large extended family. On a bitterly cold day, Ree, who takes care of her two younger brothers as well as her mother, learns that her father has skipped bail. If he fails to appear for his upcoming court date on charges of cooking crystal meth, his family will lose their house, the only security they have. Winter's Bone is the story of Ree's quest to bring her father back, alive or dead. Her goal had been to leave her messy world behind and join the army, where "everybody had to help keep things clean." But her father's disappearance forces her to first take on the outlaw world of the Dolly family. Ree's plan is elemental and direct: find her father, teach her little brothers how to fend for themselves, and escape a downward spiral of misery. Asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake, but Ree perseveres. Her courage and purity of spirit make her a truly compelling figure. She learns that what she had long considered to be the burdens imposed on her by her family are, in fact, the responsibilities that give meaning and direction to her life. Her story is made palpable by Woodrell, who is "that infrequent thing, a born writer" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

‘You got to be ready to die every day – then you got a chance.’

Ree Dolly is a sixteen year old girl living in the Ozarks and has been burdened with a responsibility that has forced maturity upon her at an early age. Her mother is crazy and can no longer care for her two younger brothers and with her dad missing she’s the only one left to do it. When the loss of their house becomes a threat, Ree is forced to reach out to the Dolly clan; blood relatives, but not ones you ever want to be in the debt of.

‘Long, dark, and lovely she had been, in those days before her mind broke and the parts scattered and she let them go.’

Ree was such an incredibly strong heroine, but wouldn’t ever recognize how weighty her actions are simply because she was doing what had to be done. Her story of survival is a heartbreaking one; growing up in the Ozarks where you’re expected to grow up early and carry your own weight and then later get married and have children of your own. In addition, the community she lives in is known to all as being a center for cooking meth. Ree has different dreams and refuses to settle into the grooves already laid out for her. She intends to join the army and make something of herself, but this dream impossible with no one else to care for her brothers, so it becomes vital for her future to find her father.

‘Fading light buttered the ridges until shadows licked them clean and they were lost to nightfall.’

The writing was exquisitely rendered. Bleak. Dismal. Lugubrious. Just a few words best to describe this small yet substantial story. Daniel Woodrell is unrestrained in his depiction of this Ozark community and just how harsh and desolate parts of this world can be. This may be a story of fiction, yet it’s still based on fact as people live like this to this day. It really puts it into perspective the luxuries that many of us take for granted each and every day.

Winter’s Bone is a dreary story that somehow manages to still radiate hope with an incredibly memorable heroine. Recommended for fans of Cormac McCarthy and Donald Ray Pollock.


Book Review – The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

July 25, 2013 Bonnie Adult, Book Reviews, Read in 2013 5 Comments

Book Review – The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray PollockThe Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Published by Doubleday on July 12th 2011
Pages: 261
Genres: Southern Gothic/Country Noir
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Also by this author: The Heavenly Table


In The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock has written a novel that marries the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers with the religious and Gothic over­tones of Flannery O’Connor at her most haunting.

Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, The Devil All the Time follows a cast of compelling and bizarre characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s. There’s Willard Russell, tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, who can’t save his beautiful wife, Charlotte, from an agonizing death by cancer no matter how much sacrifi­cial blood he pours on his “prayer log.” There’s Carl and Sandy Henderson, a husband-and-wife team of serial kill­ers, who troll America’s highways searching for suitable models to photograph and exterminate. There’s the spider-handling preacher Roy and his crippled virtuoso-guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore, running from the law. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Eugene Russell, Willard and Charlotte’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but also violent man in his own right.

Donald Ray Pollock braids his plotlines into a taut narrative that will leave readers astonished and deeply moved. With his first novel, he proves himself a master storyteller in the grittiest and most uncompromising American grain.

“…rich people did fine and dandy as long as things were going their way, but the minute the shit hit the fan, they fell apart like paper dolls left out in the rain.”

The Devil All the Time spans decades and showcases several unforgettable individuals. We’re first introduced to Willard Russell, an extremely religious man who sacrifices animals to his ‘prayer log’ in hopes that it will keep the cancer from taking his wife. His son, Arvin, is irrevocably changed by this period of his life. We’re also introduced to a preacher that believes he possesses the ability to bring people back to life, but when he kills and his ability abandons him he is forced to flee. And lastly is the couple that travel the country picking up hitchhikers, killing them brutally, and taking pictures as mementos.

‘Only in the presence of death could he feel the presence of something like God.’

The Devil All the Time is comprised of some of the most perverse characters I’ve likely ever read. Incredibly violent and brash in both characters and the story itself. There is suicide and rape and several brutal killings of both humans and animals but it somehow manages to not ever get to the point of gratuitous; rather, the actions of these individuals were conducted with a casualness and almost flippant manner that was fitting for them.

The desperation and overall mindset of these individuals in this small backwoods town (Knockemstiff, Ohio – which is actually a real town where Donald Ray Pollock himself grew up) was astounding. No one seemed to have big life plans, they all seemed to be extremely simple people. Except for the perverse ones.

‘…he pulled the trigger and a wad of wet, gray brains show out the other side of the college boy’s head. After he fell over, blood pooled in the sockets of his eyeballs like little lakes of fire…’

I’m not usually one for religious stories but these were tantalizing yet so shocking; my eyes were likely the size of dinner plates every time I was reading. It was quite like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t have torn my eyes away even if I tried (or wanted to). These seemingly unconnected story lines come together in a way that surely shocked the hell out of me. This was a completely enthralling story, I hope we can expect more from Mr. Pollock. Big thanks to Rory for the push to finally read this.