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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & 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.