S-Town Reads

Image courtesy of Pierce Place on Flickr via https://www.flickr.com/photos/pierceplace532/2354493671/Earlier this year, the producers of the This American Life public radio series, as well as the Serial podcast, released the S-Town podcast. Unlike a majority of other podcasts, which are released weekly or monthly, Brian Reed, the creator of S-town (and also a Senior Producer at This American Life) released all seven episodes simultaneously. The podcast's genesis came from John B. McLemore contacting the producers at This American Life about a story of murder and corruption in his hometown, Woodstock, Alabama. Like many enthusiastic listeners, I "binge listened" to the seven episodes—enthralled as John B's story unfolded with plot twists and turns.

As the series evolved from one story line to another, no matter where the plot's focus landed, I was taken with its Southern Gothic undertones, similar to stories of Flannery O'Connor (e.g., "The Life You Save May Be Your Own") and William Faulkner (e.g., "A Rose for Emily"). Additionally, the short stories and authors mentioned throughout the podcast piqued my interest to revisit those works I had read so long ago (e.g., Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace"). I realized once I had finished listening, I needed something to fill the void. Seven episodes had gone entirely too fast. For you fans who could not get enough, the Mercer County Library has titles to help fill the S-Town void.

Short Stories

Short Stories

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
One of the most terrifying stories of the twentieth century, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" created a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. "Powerful and haunting," and "nights of unrest" were typical reader responses. Today it is considered a classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for its combination of subtle suspense and pitch-perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.

The Necklace and Other Stories by Guy De Maupassant
A Parisian civil servant turned protégé of Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant is considered not only one of the greatest short story writers in all of French literature but also a pioneer of psychological realism and modernism who helped define the form. Credited with influencing the likes of Chekhov, Maugham, Babel, and O. Henry, Maupassant had, at the time of his death at the age of forty-two, written six novels and some three hundred short stories. Yet in English, Maupassant has, curiously, remained unappreciated by modern readers due to outdated translations that render his prose in an archaic, literal style.

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
Flannery O'Connor was working on "Everything That Rises Must Converge" at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx's masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kinds of love. In "The Mud Below," a rodeo rider's obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In "The Half-Skinned Steer," an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother's funeral, and dies a mile from home. In "Brokeback Mountain," the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world's violent intolerance.

Southern Fiction

Southern Fiction

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury is the tragedy of the Compson family, featuring some of the most memorable characters in literature: beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant. Their lives fragmented and harrowed by history and legacy, the characters' voices and actions mesh to create what is arguably Faulkner's masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Silas Jones, Chabot's lone lawman, hasn't had a lick of trouble in recent memory. In fact, the last thing to disturb Chabot was the disappearance of a teen girl nearly twenty years ago. However, when somebody tries to kill the town recluse, another young woman vanishes, and a drug dealer is found murdered all in a short amount of time, the quaint Mississippi town is shaken to the core.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
O'Conner's first novel chronicles the tale of Hazel Motes, a young man caught in a post-modern struggle of personal religious introspection and defiance. Hazel interacts with various characters, including a cynical street preacher and his daughter and a man with "wise blood," in a world where religion and faith often do not coincide. From author's note: "That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence. For them Hazel Motes' integrity lies in his trying with such vigor to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind. For the author, Hazel's integrity lies in his not being able to do so. Does one's own integrity ever lie in what he is not able to do?"

The Risen by Ron Rash
Estranged for decades after a turbulent 1969 summer spent with a free-spirited redhead, two brothers are forced by a shocking reminder to confront the past events that divided them.

Rural Noir

Rural Noir

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Returning to her family's Kansas estate in the hopes of discovering the fate of her missing cousin, Lane reconnects with a young man from her past and is confronted by dark family secrets that prompted her to flee years earlier.

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organised meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than this life.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
"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"—Jacket

Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell
In Daniel Woodrell's fiction, how the world sees you is how you come to see yourself. Failure is built in, and violence, petty crime, and jail time are the common coin. Shuggie Atkins is a lonely fat boy of thirteen. His mother, Glenda, teases him with her sexual provocations. His father, Red, is a brutal man with a short fuse who mocks and despises his son. Into this mix comes Jimmy Vin Pearce with his shiny green T-Bird and his impeccably smart clothes. It isn't long before he and Glenda begin a torrid affair. What follows is violent, shocking, and completely unpredictable—except that it is totally foreordained.
Nonfiction

Non-Fiction

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight. These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else.

The Mind of the South by W. J. Cash
Ever since its publication in 1941, The Mind of the South has been recognized as a path-breaking work of scholarship and as a literary achievement of enormous eloquence and insight in its own right. From its investigation of the Southern class system to its pioneering assessments of the region's legacies of racism, religiosity, and romanticism, W. J. Cash's book defined the way in which millions of readers—on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line—would see the South for decades to come.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Shares the story of the author's family and upbringing, describing how they moved from poverty to an upwardly mobile clan that included the author, a Yale Law School graduate, while navigating the demands of middle class life and the collective demons of the past.

—Anna Van S.

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