The American South

The American South offers famous food, memorable music and honest hospitality, but why do so many authors dwell on the dark side of this region? Books like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora N. Hurston, Alex Haley’s Roots and The Color Purple by Alice Walker are acclaimed, but harrowing. Discrimination of all kinds, voodoo and other black arts, violence and murder, incest and rape – you will find them all prominently featured in Southern-themed literature.

And then there are the red-necks out in the wilderness, so graphically displayed in Deliverance by James Dickey – a story so powerful that Time Magazine listed it as one of the top 100 English language novels written since 1923. A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren is no walk in the park either – it is an aptly named novel that shows the nasty side of New Orleans.

Of course, our list includes William Faulkner, who set all but three of his novels in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County and was very aware of the South’s problems. Painful though these books might be, they are also tremendous reads.

 

Southern Discomfort Books

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd

An historical novel from 2002 featuring racial unrest in South Carolina during 1964.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner

A stream of consciousness that follows the Compson family’s decline over a 30-year period.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner

It begins with a young man building his mother’s coffin in front of her and things go downhill from there.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Cold Mountain
by Charles Frazier

A Confederate soldier is wounded fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in and decides to embark on a dangerous journey home.
Light in August by William Faulkner
Light in August
by William Faulkner

A novel published in 1932 that shows lingering racism and misogyny in the South.
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
The Prince of Tides
by Pat Conroy

Very bad things happen on Melrose Island, South Carolina, that have a lingering impact on a brother and sister.
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Known World
by Edward P. Jones

Set in Virginia, this historical novel explores slavery from the point of view of slave owners who were free blacks.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
Black Like Me
by John Howard Griffin

Published in 1961, this non-fiction work sees Griffin, who was white, passing himself off as black for a six-week trip through racially segregated southern states.
Deliverance by James Dickey
Deliverance
by James Dickey

A tough novel about three city men going canoeing down a Georgia river and running into some vicious red-necks.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams

An aging alcoholic Southern belle attempts to put her life back together by moving in with her sister who is being abused by her husband.
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell
Tobacco Road
by Erskine Caldwell

This 1932 novel portrays the life of sharecroppers of rural Georgia
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
The Tin Roof Blowdown
by James Lee Burke

New Orleans cop Dave Robicheaux investigates shootings in the hellish aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite
Exquisite Corpse
by Poppy Z. Brite

Two serial killers with a taste for torture, murder and cannibalism stalk their prey in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
The Chamber by John Grisham
The Chamber
by John Grisham

A legal thriller that looks at the family strain caused by racism, hate crimes and the Ku Klux Klan.
My Mother the Cheerleader by Robert Sharenow
My Mother the Cheerleader
by Robert Sharenow

A YA novel where the protagonist’s mother and her cronies harass the school’s only black student, a six-year-old named Ruby.
Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan
Wolf Whistle
by Lewis Nordan

A fictional account of the murder of Emmett Till – a 14-year-old black who was accused of flirting with a white woman.
Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy
Outer Dark
by Cormac McCarthy

Set somewhere in the South, incest and infanticide play key roles in the plot of McCarthy’s second novel.
My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews
My Sweet Audrina
by V.C. Andrews

Set in the South, this story has all the lies, deceit, rape and betrayal that you’d expect from V.C. Andrews.
A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory
A Quiet Belief in Angels
by R.J. Ellory

A serial killer is murdering young girls in rural Georgia. Ellory is British but sets his plots in the US.
True Evil by Greg Iles
True Evil
by Greg Iles

A southern doctor finds his wife is consulting with a divorce attorney but the spouses of his clients often end up dead.
The American Plague by Molly Caldwell
The American Plague
by Molly Caldwell

This book tells the story of the yellow fever epidemic around the Mississippi River.
A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren
A Walk on the Wild Side
by Nelson Algren

This 1956 novel shows the seedy underbelly of New Orleans – brothels, violence and murder.
Quiet Vendetta by R.J. Ellory
Quiet Vendetta
by R.J. Ellory

Another murder mystery from Ellory – this one is set in New Orleans.
The English Breakfast Murder by Laura Childs
The English Breakfast Murder
by Laura Childs

Set in Charleston, a tea shop owner gets embroiled in murder mystery.
The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
The Complete Stories
by Flannery O'Connor

O’Connor said: “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

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