Southern Gothic (400 level seminar, not 101)
October 31, 2015 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I have always held a deep love and excitement for the Southern Gothic literary tradition and its sundry themes. But I've long ago exhausted the likes of Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and most of the well known folks in between. I'm looking for more obscure or unexpected works, like Fred Chappell's "Dagon". Books as well as films. Does not have to be "traditional" Southern Gothic (see below fold). The more psychologically unsettling, the better.

To reiterate: I welcome suggestions for films as much as I do the written word. Luis Bunuel's The Young One is an example of the kind of unexpected, or lesser known works I'm looking for. It can still be a work by a well known or highly praised author or filmmaker, as Chappell and Bunuel respectively are, but the fact that these titles are somewhat 'outliers' - when compared to their other works - is part of what intrigues me.

It can also be evocative of Southern Gothic without a direct geographic correlation. The deep Canadian wilderness, for example*. Film noir, German expressionism, hardboiled/crime fiction. Or any other works that are more often aligned with other well-defined genres and literary eras, like the Harlem Renaissance and African American literature generally, Magical Realism, or the post-Latin American Boom (I was a big fan of Luisa Valenzuela's "The Lizard's Tail" for its odd overlaps with some Southern Gothic themes).

Modern works are absolutely acceptable.

If you know of a nonfiction book or essay, or a documentary that just feels Southern Gothic in its own strange way, like Harlan County USA or Sean Dunne's American Juggalo, I want to hear about it.

Not required, but bonus points if the author/filmmaker is a woman or a person of color. Bonus points if the movie is available for free streaming with a paid Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime account.

...and I apologize in advance for being both so specific and so broad. I will point out that I am keeping a very open mind about this.

*I tried watching Kevin Smith's "Tusk" last night and couldn't finish it, as much as I love Kevin Smith and admit that the film was excellent. I can handle forced amputation and elegantly phrased torture porn in a story I'm reading... a little less so when I'm watching it unfold on the screen. But please don't let this be a reason to hold back an otherwise fantastic recommendation!
posted by nightrecordings to Grab Bag (51 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The films of Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter and Mud, definitely give off that Southern Gothic/Americana vibe to me.
posted by PenDevil at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wet Moon by Sophie Campbell, if comics are an acceptable medium. Set in an offbeat swampy Florida college town where goth/fetish culture is the norm. Primarily a drama about the lives of some college kids, but with an unsettling/humid/decaying vibe and plenty of uncanny stuff happening.
posted by terretu at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2015

There is always Tennessee Williams. Try Suddenly Last Summer, or Sweet Bird of Youth.
posted by Oyéah at 10:06 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Four and Twenty Blackbirds series by Cherie Priest.

You've probably already read Donna Tartt's Little Friend, but I'll mention it just in case.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:12 AM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you tried Larry Brown's novels? His books, along with authors like Daniel Woodrell, are within that southern tradition but might be grittier than what you are looking for.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:15 AM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

For books, Donald Ray Pollack's The Devil All The Time and Breece D'J Pancake's Stories, although they're set farther north (Ohio & West Virginia).

And certainly the first season of True Detective, but I'm sure you've seen that.
posted by jabes at 10:22 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Gritty is definitely okay. I still haven't read Larry Brown and have not heard of Woodrell, so thank you.

Also wanted to point out how much I love David Gordon Greene's (who adapted Brown's "Joe") films set in the rural American south, especially "George Washington." So, to clarify, my use of 'Southern Gothic' as a filter can also include dark depictions of Southern poverty.

I will stop threadsitting now.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:23 AM on October 31, 2015

The works of John Farris, in particular All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By.
posted by nicwolff at 10:25 AM on October 31, 2015

If you are up for non-fiction documentary then seek out the films about Jesco White. Absurd, disturbing, bizarre, hilarious, and I say this as someone who was raised in rural Appalachia. The first, and best, is Dancing Outlaw (trailer). In 2009, film called The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia was made. I've not seen it, but from the trailer, it looks a lot more exploitative and cynical that the original doc.
posted by kimdog at 10:44 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I assume you may have read the anthology American Gothic Tales edited by Joyce Carol Oates; if not, there might be a few stories in there you haven't read.
posted by Hypatia at 10:51 AM on October 31, 2015

Sean Stewart's Mockingbird is a fantasy / magical realist novel set in Houston. It has spooky elements, but it's more wonderful than unsettling, so I don't think it's a perfect match for your interests. But it's good, it did come to mind, and you can see someone else calling it Southern Gothic on Amazon.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:52 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two films I would recommend as someone who grew up in the Bible Belt:
1.Robert Altman's Nashville: Comparisons between the music industries of Nashville and Los Angeles. Fashion, cultural nuances, language styles. A tremendous Richard Pryor performance. Altman's juxtaposition of famous and ordinary doppelgangers. Parallels with politics, religion and the conduit of music and fame. It's a great film.
2. O, Brother Where Art Thou: The Coen Brothers make sly parallels between Southern culture and Jewish culture set to some wonderful music that is sophisticated, hilarious, and delightful.
posted by effluvia at 10:59 AM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think Twilight By William Gay would be right up your alley.
posted by fryman at 11:02 AM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Omensetter's Luck by William Gass might fit. Certainly it's been called midwestern gothic more than once. Downright Faulknerian in places.
posted by Lorin at 11:50 AM on October 31, 2015

The thing that came to mind for me was Lucrecia Martel's 2001 film La Cienaga. It's Argentinian, but perhaps from the summary you can see the Southern Gothic connections:

"Mecha (Graciela Borges) is a middle-aged woman with several accident-prone teenagers, a husband who dyes his hair, and the tedious problem of sullen servants. Nothing that a few drinks can’t cure. To avoid the uncomfortably hot and humid weather, they spend their summers at a country estate whose glory has long faded, where the swimming pool is filthy, but still offers some relief. Mecha’s cousin, Tali (Mercedes Morán), lives in the nearby city La Ciénaga ("The Swamp") and has a crew of small, noisy children and a husband who loves his home, his kids, and hunting. Before long, the crowded, rough-and-tumble domestic situation strains both families’ nerves, exposing repressed family mysteries, and tensions that threaten to erupt into violence. Like Luis Buñuel before her, award-winning filmmaker Lucrecia Martel offers an unapologetic peek into the world of Argentina’s decadent bourgeoisie."

One of Martel's other films, The Holy Girl, also reminds me specifically of Flannery O'Connor.
posted by vunder at 11:54 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love Southern Gothic, and I love James Purdy.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:09 PM on October 31, 2015

And perhaps you already know The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:12 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about something like, "Brothers Keeper"?
posted by rhizome at 12:13 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

The film Skeleton Key was much better than I expected it to be; there are supernatural elements, but the general milieu is Southern Gothic.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:40 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Baby Doll
Cat in a Hot Tin Roof
Night of the Hunter
(Richard Pryor isn't in Nashville, though.)
posted by Ideefixe at 12:56 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ron Rash is a contemporary author who you may enjoy. The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth is one of my favorite short stories of all time.
posted by danielle the bee at 1:04 PM on October 31, 2015

Swamplandia is the best book I read this year.
posted by Brittanie at 2:57 PM on October 31, 2015

Ohhh, regarding Joyce Carol Oates, there's the classic short story Where Are You Going Where Have You Been.
posted by Brittanie at 2:59 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

This may count as too well known, but what about Toni Morrison? Beloved is the first novel of hers that comes to mind based on what you're looking for, but I think a lot of her other novels would work as well, like The Bluest Eye. If by any chance you haven't read them, you definitely should. They definitely fit the "psychologically unsettling" category.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:23 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, how do you feel about TV series? I haven't actually seen it, but from everything I've heard (as is mentioned in the wiki page), Rectify follows the Southern Gothic tradition.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:25 PM on October 31, 2015

"Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" is a pretty wonderful meditation on the South, and the music is exceptional.
posted by pipeski at 3:46 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Did you see Lee Daniels' movie Paperboy? It's kind of brilliant (Matthew McConaughey) and kind of terrible (Zac Efron) and all Florida (and based on a book by Pete Dexter, who is also worth looking into). As far as 400-level writing by women of color making compelling use of the Gothic, Gayl Jones' novel Corregidora is incredible.
posted by thetortoise at 3:50 PM on October 31, 2015

OK, I'll shoot. Die Wand. It's a German movie about a woman who gets cut off from the rest of society. It's pared down (it's German!) but there's a lot of alternating beauty and dread, and the clash of things being what they are vs. how they should be, and as often happens in Southern Gothic, there's a moment of grotesque, shattering violence that is never quite explained.
posted by mochapickle at 3:51 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

The movie of Reflections In A Golden Eye is definitely worth seeing if only for the performances of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. Or, read the book.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2015

The movie of Reflections In A Golden Eye is definitely worth seeing if only for the performances of Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. Or, read the book.

Yes, you absolutely have to read everything by Carson McCullers if you haven't done that already. And also have a triple-feature of Reflections in a Golden Eye, Suddenly Last Summer, and Baby Doll.
posted by thetortoise at 3:58 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

This suggestion is completely off-the-wall, but you kinda asked for it: The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter is an Australian noir novel in verse, very atmospheric and steamy, Southern-hemisphere Gothic, I guess. I think you would love it. (Don't watch the movie.) And along the same lines, The Well by Elizabeth Jolley.
posted by thetortoise at 4:07 PM on October 31, 2015

One more: The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley. Not Southern, but psychologically unsettling and using the Gothic to directly address racism in America.
posted by thetortoise at 4:19 PM on October 31, 2015

You might try Leon Rooke, A Good Baby for example. Padgett Powell also comes to mind.

Seconding Daniel Woodrell, and note that one of his books was adapted as the great movie Winter's Bone. In addition to his books, I wanted to mention the underrated movie version of another of his books (the book is Woe to Live On) - the movie is Ride With The Devil, and Ang Lee is the director. It is slow to reveal itself to the modern audience, and does not go where you think it is going, which may be why it did not do well, but I think is worth a view, despite some flaws.

You might also try Kem Nunn's Unassigned Territory. Nunn writes about California, but I think this one in particular might resonate.

Finally, it's an older movie, but I assume you have seen The Night of the Hunter?
posted by gudrun at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Michael McDowell is the king of pulpy southern gothic. Bonus trivia: he wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice.
posted by cakelite at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2015

Night of the Hunter was based on the novel by Davis Grubb.
posted by brujita at 8:49 PM on October 31, 2015

The Bad Seed is based on William March's novel, based in AL.
posted by brujita at 8:54 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Claire Vaye Watkins' collection of short stories, Battleborn, might go along with the spirit of what you're looking for. "Man-O-War" would be a good story to start with.
posted by bananana at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Been a long time but I enjoyed Nick Cave's And The Ass Saw The Angel.
posted by Chairboy at 10:01 PM on October 31, 2015

Harry Crews! That is, if you haven't read him already. Gotta love Car.

Have you read anything by Carolyn Chute? All her books set in rural Maine are Southern Gothic-y (The Beans of Egypt, Maine is a good place to start).

If you're looking for Canadian equivalents of southern gothic, Alice Munro's work is generally held up as being "Southern Ontario Gothic" -- but, though wonderful, it's certainly not as gritty as, say, Larry Brown, or even Eudora Welty.

You might try someone like Alasdair McLeod, whose work is evocative, sometimes, of the Southern Gothic feel. As Birds Bring Forth the Sun is an excellent collection of short stories. Another Maritime writer who really writes some dark & weird stuff is Alden Nowlan. His Miracle at Indian River has a few stories that are sort of Donald Ray Pollock-esque in it.

You could also try David Adams Richards' Mercy Among the Children.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:17 PM on October 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Netflix's original TV series Bloodline is set in the Florida Keys and oozes Southern Gothic melodrama about a family that runs a hotel. Stars Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Kyle Chandler from Friday Night Lights, and the chilling Ben Mendelson. It's been renewed for a second season.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:59 AM on November 1, 2015

Winter's Bone, book and movie.
posted by Cocodrillo at 5:52 AM on November 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, it's Australian, but Wake in Fright would be right up your alley.
posted by cakelite at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2015

Barry Hannah, perhaps?
posted by ndfine at 7:06 AM on November 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Caroline Gordon's books are exactly what you're looking for: None Shall Look Back, Green Centuries, and The Women on the Porch.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:17 AM on November 1, 2015

You might also enjoy the movie Frailty, because Bill Paxton is excellent at conveying Southern cultural guilt and religious fervor.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2015

Just wanted to chime in to second Woodrell, Hannah, "Rectify," "Swamplandia" and to suggest Greg Iles of Mississippi. Many good ideas here!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 11:23 AM on November 1, 2015

Check out Nalo Hopkinson's short stories - Skin Folk draws from more Caribbean roots but many have that feel of swampy, gothic horror to them, and are beautifully written.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me Katherine Dunn's Geek Love would qualify. I'm reading the aforementioned The Little Friend (thanks VH!) right now and enjoying it immensely. I'm saving this discussion for the next time I'm in the mood!
posted by cleroy at 12:23 PM on November 1, 2015

Oh, speaking of movies: Sling Blade!
posted by cleroy at 12:25 PM on November 1, 2015

Any of the Sailor & Lula novels plus Baby Cat Face, Arise and Walk, The Sinaloa Story by Barry Gifford. As a native Southerner, his version of the South is weirder, stranger, more exaggerated, and yet somehow very very familiar.
posted by Kitteh at 7:43 AM on November 2, 2015

Coming back to add for future reference the book Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories by Gurney Norman.
posted by gudrun at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2016

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