Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
From William Faulkner to Flannery O'Connor, the American South has such a rich tradition in gothic literature that it almost seems blasphemous to ask its contemporary writers for new material. Last year, with the publication of The Long Home, Tennessee native William Gay proved that not doing so would be our loss. Hardscrabble and soulful, Gay unleashed prose that reverberated in the mind like an August thunderstorm. In Provinces of Night he proves that his first effort was no fluke by bringing to life one of the most vivid families in recent memory: a raucous, whiskey-drinking clan called the Bloodworths.
The year is 1952 and the place a small backwater town in Tennessee, where Gay's cast prepares for the return of family patriarch E. F. Bloodworth. The old man's reappearance inspires fear, envy, and pure hysteria among his numerous offspring. And with good reason: At one time, E. F. would kill if he had to (he shot a deputy who was using E. F.'s wife as a shield), and the man can make a banjo talk. Not surprisingly, E. F.'s three sons have inherited his ornery nature in spades. Warren has become a drunk and a womanizer. Brady, albeit the most responsible, liberally applies hexes on his enemies. And finally, there's Boyd, a divorcé hell-bent on tracking down his ex-wife and her new lover. Boyd's son, Fleming, might be the only Bloodworth capable of forging his own path. From the shady perch of his father's porch, the young man has been quietly applying himself to the trade of writing. Over the course of the novel, Fleming steps out from the protective shade of his stomping ground and is rewarded with plenty of material for his stories. The young man drinks, fights, and frequently bails his uncles out of hot water. The family's biggest problem, it turns out, is not E. F's homecoming but that part of him that never left, the part that lives in each of them.
Some of these episodes -- such as Fleming's attempt to recapture a hog -- are pure slapstick, which Gay affects brilliantly. More subtle and memorable, however, are Fleming's fledgling attempts at acquainting himself with the fairer sex and Gay's depiction of his desire to transcend his family's legacy. Gay masterfully guides the reader through Fleming's awakening, lingering and interpolating where need be, biting his lip when events speak for themselves. In the end, he lends credence to the claim that, even if their last name ain't Faulkner, southerners spin the best yarns.
Provinces of Night is not a novel for readers driven mainly by plot, or troubled by Gay's indifference for conventions like commas and quotation marks (à la McCarthy). But there is much to admire here: breathtaking, evocative writing and a dark, sardonic humor.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like one of Wallace Stevens's best-known poems, Gay's (The Long Home) second novel begins with a jar on a hill in Tennessee--only this one appears to contain tiny human bones. That's a suitably ominous prelude to the dark saga of the Bloodworth clan, which revolves mostly around 17-year-old Fleming, an aspiring writer trying to evade the family legacy of violence and self-destruction. It is 1952 and his father, Boyd, has left their decrepit mountain home "seventy miles back of Nashville" for Detroit, not to work in an automobile factory like the other "hillbillies" but to search for--and kill--the peddler who has run off with his wife. Meanwhile, Fleming's grandfather, E.F. Bloodworth, a blues musician, is on his way home after having suffered a "stroke of paralysis" 20 years earlier. His handsome Uncle Warren, a former war hero now at loose ends, is a dissipated womanizer with an even more dissolute and unstable son, and his Uncle Brady "witches" for water, tells fortunes and casts hexes on those who do him wrong. Even as the Tennessee Valley Authority is moving in to clear and flood their valley and bring in "the electricity," Fleming's relatives and neighbors live by the backwoods code of violence exemplified by E.F., a man whose exploits are legendary among the locals. Only Raven Lee Halfacre, the 16-year-old daughter of a promiscuous alcoholic and the "prettiest girl in a three county area," offers the boy a glimpse of another way of life. Fleming's name echoes that of one of Faulkner's most memorable characters, and Gay's prose resembles that of Faulkner at his most florid. His stylistic quirks--especially his refusal to set off dialogue with quotation marks--take some getting used to, but the pitch-perfect rendition of the cadences of Southern speech and deeply poetic descriptions of the landscape more than compensate. (Dec. 26) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
After a hugely successful debut with The Long Home, Gay delivers another remarkable literary powerhouse. Gay re-creates the sights and sounds of rural Tennessee, which soon becomes home for the reader. Home, in this case, is a place of great emotional turmoil as three generations of Bloodworths struggle to love and leave one another. All of the Bloodworths but young Fleming seem to be either crazy or on their way there. Fleming, however, is captivated by his infamous grandfather, a crusty, caustic blues guitarist, who after 20 years of wandering has returned to settle his affairs before he dies. Even as he struggles to understand his family's irreconcilable views of the old man, Fleming grows attached to him. It is through his grandfather's music that Fleming encounters the beautiful and careless Raven Lee, who offers him the only chance he has ever had to change his future. Full to the hilt with deeply engrossing characters and surroundings, this novel will surely capture the hearts and minds of any reader.--Shannon Haddock, Bellsouth Corporate Lib. & Business Research Ctr., Birmingham, AL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
No Matter the Critics-He's NOT Faulkner!
I wish I could have liked this book more, but I'm weary of bleak tales of growing up poor and Southern. It's not that I am not aware of the travails of families who lived off the land I come from people who lived in the backwoods and made it through the worst times of the Great Depression.
I just don't want to read about their struggles over and over and over again.
As to comparisons between William Gay and William Faulkner GET REAL! This guy can't even stand on Faulkner's porch. Faulkner may have created sentences that ran on for 3 pages, but he was smart enough to use punctuation, for heaven's sake.
I guess the literary world is so desperate for quality these days that they'll latch on to anything different. In this case, however, different isn't necessarily better.
From the Publisher
“An extremely seductive read.”–The Washington Post Book World
“Gay is unafraid to tackle the biggest of the big themes, nor does he shy away from the grand gesture that makes those themes manifest.”–The New York Times Book Review
“There is much to admire here: breathtaking, evocative writing and a dark, sardonic humor.”–USA Today
“Earthily idiosyncratic, spookily Gothic . . . an author with a powerful vision.” –The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
It’s 1952, and E.F. Bloodworth is finally coming home to Ackerman’s Field, Tennessee. Itinerant banjo picker and volatile vagrant, he’s been gone ever since he gunned down a deputy thirty years before. Two of his sons won’t be home to greet him: Warren lives a life of alcoholic philandering down in Alabama, and Boyd has gone to Detroit in vengeful pursuit of his wife and the peddler she ran off with. His third son, Brady, is still home, but he’s an addled soothsayer given to voodoo and bent on doing whatever it takes to keep E.F. from seeing the wife he abandoned. Only Fleming, E.F.’s grandson, is pleased with the old man’s homecoming, but Fleming’s life is soon to careen down an unpredictable path hewn by the beautiful Raven Lee Halfacre.
In the great Southern tradition of Faulkner, Styron, and Cormac McCarthy, William Gay wields a prose as evocative and lush as the haunted and humid world it depicts. Provinces of Night is a tale redolent of violence and redemption–a whiskey-scented, knife-scarred novel whose indelible finale is not an ending nearly so much as it is an apotheosis.