The peculiarities of the American South color Southern Gothic novels. Expect wild and desolate landscapes, sinister scenarios, family mysteries shrowded in buried secrets, and the occasional sprinkle of supernatural. William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy championed the genre, but these contemporary writers tackle this grim and emotive literary space beautifully. Here are six women-penned Southern Gothic novels to read this cozy season.
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Florida by Lauren Groff
About the novel: This textured novel sucks you into the wild corners of Florida, where people, animals, and other forces of nature wait to pounce. The collection of short vignettes spans characters, time, and towns — all in Florida. You’ll witness the trials and tribulations of abandoned yet resourceful sisters, a lonely boy, a restless couple, a tenacious homeless woman, and so many more. Lauren Groff tackles human dialogue and physical description with wit, precision, and metaphors that will stop you in your tracks. Florida is the story’s epicenter, but so much more than just a place.
About the author: Lauren Groff is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the author of The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia, Fates and Furies, Matrix, and The Vaster Wilds. She’s also written the short story collections Delicate Edible Birds and Florida. She has won many prizes and awards, and her writing regularly appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. Her work has been translated into thirty-six languages. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.
Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward
About the novel: A hurricane gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Over twelve days, the story follows Esch, her three brothers, and their drunk and absent father. It’s up to the kids to stay sane and alive as they stockpile provisions, weather the elements, and tend to born and unborn babies. This big-hearted gothic novel is wrought with the brutal realities of rural poverty and the impossible perseverance required to endure it.
About the author: Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and made history as the first woman and first Black American winner of two National Book Awards for Fiction for Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones. She’s received numerous grants, fellowships, and prizes, including the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Stegner Fellowship, and the 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University and lives in Mississippi.
Revival Season by Monica West
About the novel: Every summer, fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton’s family packs themselves into their minivan and treks east through Southern towns for revival season. Miriam’s father — one of the South’s most famous preachers — organizes hugely attended healing services for the rural denizens desperate for cures. “Pagans,” he calls them. This particular summer in Georgia, Miriam witnesses an astonishing act of violence that rattles her faith in religion, her father, and everything she’s ever known. She’s left with an impossibly heavy secret and a life-changing decision to make.
About the author: Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Monica West spent her early years reading everything she could. Early in elementary school, she started writing stories and never stopped. She received her BA from Duke University, her MA from New York University, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has received multiple fellowships and residencies since and currently lives in Seattle, where she teaches at the University of San Francisco and is working on another novel.
When The Reckoning Comes by LaTonya McQueen
About the novel: Mira has been trying to distance herself from her small, segregated Southern hometown of Kipsen and its purportedly haunted Woodsman Plantation for a decade. The plantation was rumored to be haunted by enslaved people, and Mira has been stuck with the horrifying memory of seeing one herself … right before the boy she loved, Jesse, was arrested for murder. When her one-time best friend, Celine, invites Mira back to Kipsen for her wedding on that very plantation, she realizes it’s been transformed into a vacation resort. Horrendous elements of the plantation’s past lurk in the irreverent and racist resort. As the weekend unfolds, the three must come to terms with what happened and what will happen.
About the author: LaTonya McQueen received her MFA from Emerson College, her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, and was the Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. She was an Assistant Professor of English-Creative Writing and African-American Studies at Coe College for five years. She is currently an Assistant Professor of English at North Carolina State University, where she teaches in their MFA program.
Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Shain
About the novel: This YA novel is an atmospheric and creepy paranormal thriller about a teen girl, Elora, who disappears from her small town deep in the Louisiana bayou. The town of La Cachette is the self-proclaimed “Psychic Capital of the World,” where magic and mysteries fester beneath the swamp’s surface. It’s up to Elora’s best friend, Grey, to uncover the rotting truth. When a mysterious boy emerges, Grey realizes how dark and deep the town’s history is and how dangerous it is to keep digging.
About the author: Ginny Myers Sain has written the New York Times bestsellers Dark and Shallow Lies and Secrets So Deep. She lives in Florida and has devoted the past two decades to working with high school teens who want to pursue professional theatre. Ginny grew up in deeply rural America and loves recounting stories about resilient kids who grow up in remote settings.
The Gods of Green County by Mary Elizabeth Pope
About the novel: This short but powerful book takes place in 1926 rural Green County, Arkansas, an Ozarks town filled with cotton, poverty, and corruption. When young Coralee Harper’s brother Buddy is shot and killed by a powerful sheriff, her world shatters. Occasional visions of her dead brother make her second-guess both her own sanity and the truth of why this happened. Forces at work in the town tug the story into its themes of power, love, and family: an ambitious lawyer, an evangelical preacher, the town’s judgemental women, Coralee’s confused husband, and the sheriff who started it all.
About the author: Mary Elizabeth Pope grew up in Michigan with roots deep in the Missouri Bootheel and Northeast Arkansas. She is a professor of English at Emmanuel College in Boston, where she lives with her husband. She is the author of Divining Venus: Stories and the novel The Gods of Green County. Her work has appeared in Arkansas Review, Florida Review, Fugue, and many others.
Happy spooky reading, y’all!
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