A Season for Southern Gothic
22 novels for fans of Where The Crawdads Sing
I can't believe it's been six years since we refreshed our Southern Gothic reading list! The genre has grown so much since then, and I'm quite excited about this update. The classics are still here too, but I have a number of fresh titles from exciting new authors to share with you.
Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)
My favorite thing about this collection of stories is that it includes Machado's creepy, adult retelling of "The Green Ribbon." If you know, you know.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2021)
"An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . . From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes 'a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror' (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico."
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins (2021)
"A delicious twist on a Gothic classic, The Wife Upstairs pairs Southern charm with atmospheric domestic suspense, perfect for fans of B.A. Paris and Megan Miranda. Meet Jane.
Newly arrived to Birmingham, Alabama, Jane is a broke dog-walker in Thornfield Estates––a gated community full of McMansions, shiny SUVs, and bored housewives. The kind of place where no one will notice if Jane lifts the discarded tchotchkes and jewelry off the side tables of her well-heeled clients. Where no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name. "
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (2017)
"Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.
At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today."
Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash (2014)
"A poetic and haunting tale set in contemporary Appalachia, New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash illuminates lives shaped by violence and a powerful connection to the land.
Les, a long-time sheriff just three-weeks from retirement, contends with the ravages of crystal meth and his own duplicity in his small Appalachian town.
Becky, a park ranger with a harrowing past, finds solace amid the lyrical beauty of this patch of North Carolina.
Enduring the mistakes and tragedies that have indelibly marked them, they are drawn together by a reverence for the natural world. When an irascible elderly local is accused of poisoning a trout stream, Les and Becky are plunged into deep and dangerous waters, forced to navigate currents of disillusionment and betrayal that will force them to question themselves and test their tentative bond—and threaten to carry them over the edge."
Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale (2021)
"Daniel Russell was only thirteen years old when his father tried to kill them both by driving their car into Moon Lake. Miraculously surviving the crash—and growing into adulthood—Daniel returns to the site of this traumatic incident in the hopes of recovering his father's car and bones. As he attempts to finally put to rest the memories that have plagued him for years, he discovers something even more shocking among the wreckage that has ties to a twisted web of dark deeds, old grudges, and strange murders. As Daniel diligently follows where the mysterious trail of vengeance leads, he unveils the heroic revelation at its core."
Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell (1990)
"Fred Chappell is the award-winning author of more than twenty books of poetry and fiction, including I Am One of You Forever, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, and Look Back All the Green Valley. He has received many major prizes, including the Bollingen Prize in Poetry from Yale University and the Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives with his wife, Susan in Greensboro, North Carolina. This story of a day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman, a North Carolina mountain schoolteacher, sly prankster, country philosopher, and family man, won the hearts of readers and reviewers across the country."
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (2017)
"Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.
His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love."
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018)
"Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps."
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
"The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, 'each the other's world entire,' are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation."
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
"First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a 'haunting;' Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers - and soon it will choose one of them to make its own."
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)
"Ree Dolly's father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn't show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost."
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006)
"Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming."
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005)
"Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe—in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world."
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
A classic of American literature, Lee gives her famous novel a gothic atmosphere through her young narrator, Scout. Telling of her adventures in sleepy Maycomb County, the story features the reclusive Boo Radley whose mysteriousness takes the form of the “grotesque” in the eyes of the children. This contrasts with the townspeople who play a role in carrying out a serious injustice, bringing the children’s innocence to an end.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (2011)
"Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality."
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
"On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.
In one of the first non-fiction novels ever written, Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, generating both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence."
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994)
"Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981. Was it murder or self-defense? For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares. John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction. Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case."
The Feast of All Saints by Anne Rice (1979)
Richly Southern Gothic both thematically and in its Antebellum South setting, this historical novel tells of a freed black community in 1840’s New Orleans. Although technically free, Marcel and his sister Marie struggle against abuse, social alienation and a fractured family life as they each seek happiness, self-determination and true freedom.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (2002)
"The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet—unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson--sets out to unmask his killer. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. "
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
"One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature."
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1979)
"Absalom, Absalom! is Faulkner’s epic tale of Thomas Sutpen, a man who comes to the South in the early 1830s to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness.”
The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor (1960)
"In this, O'Connor's second novel, the orphaned Francis Marion Tarwater and his cousin, the schoolteacher Rayber, defy the prophecy of their dead uncle that Tarwater will become a prophet and baptize Rayber's young son, Bishop. A series of struggles ensues, as Tarwater fights an internal battle against his innate faith and the voices calling him to be a prophet while Rayber tries to draw Tarwater into a more "reasonable" modern world. Both wrestle with the legacy of their dead relative and lay claim to Bishop's soul. All this is observed by O'Connor with an astonishing combination of irony and compassion, humor and pathos."
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947)
Williams’ play is filled with violence, mental instability and family dysfunction. When sophisticated Blanche Dubois moves in with her sister and brother-in-law in the French Quarter of New Orleans, tensions arise as personalities clash and murmurs surrounding her past are brought to light.