What the heck is a Southern Gothic novel, anyway? Is that even a real thing? I know you have lost sleep over this very topic so I’m gonna clear it all up right now. Don’t worry–the Prof is on it.
We know the term “gothic” has some pretty bold characteristics:
- People being buried alive (ala Poe’s “Cask of Amontilad0”).
- The entrapment of the helpless female (ala Wuthering Heights).
- Themes of isolation coupled with suspense (see King’s The Shining).
- A really bad snowstorm or rainstorm to add to the mood (and to lessen the chance of escape)… again, The Shining.)
- A handsome, brooding and often mentally unstable hero (again, Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights makes me sigh. I mean, we all know he’s completely cray-cray but guess what. We don’t care.
(Especially when Heathcliff is played by Tom Hardy. My friend April LOVES him practically as much as I do.)
(Note: if you have not watched this version for free on Netflix, WALK AWAY FROM THIS BLOG RIGHT NOW AND DO IT. You will NOT be disappointed.
These are all characterisitics I would connect with the term “Gothic.” So what makes a novel “Southern Gothic?” Here are some traits I look for when labeling a book with this particular genre.
1. The story is set in the American South, no matter what the time frame. A great example is To Kill a Mockingbird. Occuring in Alabama in during the time period of “The Great Depression,” this story fits nicely into this niche.
2.Something super creepy happens. For example, keeping Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird) locked in the basement of the spooky house nobody goes into. Yeah, that’s creepy and unusual.
Or, there might be a ghost wandering around trying to connect with the living in the South. It doesn’t count if it’s South Jersey. For some reason, a haunted trailer just isn’t as frightening as a haunted mansion.
Or, when the Dollanger kids (Flowers in the Attic) get locked in attic of the old house in Virginia for a couple of years. That’s pretty unnatural.
3.Lots of secrets. Secret loves, secret horrors, secret secrets. For example, in Toni Morrison’s Beloved…many secret unhealthy events occur that are not necessarily something I’d bring up in a blog. Let’s just say the effects of slavery hang around even if we try to pretend they don’t. If you’ve never read Beloved, DO IT. IF YOU DARE.
4.There’s usually an element of people stuck in time. For example, people who are racist just stay racist because they are isolated in the South and don’t get out much. Or, people who won’t move on and accept change because they can’t or won’t. This usually leads to scary events — and more secrets.
Speaking of secrets and Southern Gothic books, my novel War Eagle Women has all of the above: secrets, check. Entrapment? Check. Ghost/supernatural event? Check. A hella rainstorm? Double check. Dysfunctional family? Check.
Maybe you should CHECK it out. Get it?
Want more info? Here’s the link. If you are an Amazon Prime member, it’s available for a limited time for free.
More about Southern Gothic books in my next blog.