Southern Gothic: Background information when reading A Good Hard Look

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A Good Hard Look

A Novel

by Ann Napolitano

A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2012, 352 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Southern Gothic

Print Review

A number of reviewers describe A Good Hard Look as "Southern Gothic". gothic novels Gothic fiction generally combines elements of horror and romance, and might include, among many other features, psychological or physical terror, mystery, the supernatural, gothic architecture, darkness, death and madness. One of, if not the earliest example of a gothic novel is Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), and more recent examples include The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Gothic writers tend to use the genre, in part, as a vehicle to criticize the morality of their era, but whereas traditional gothic novels tend to include supernatural elements, more modern gothic novels, including Southern gothic, often rely less on the supernatural and more on damaged personalities and the plight of those oppressed by traditional culture. For example, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929), often cited as the first example of Southern gothic, chronicles the disintegration of a Southern family, and contains elements of violence and grotesque characters against a background of decay; while Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940), set in a 1930s mill town, gives voice to the rejected, overlooked and mistreated.

Many of America's best known 20th century writers are considered to have written in the Southern gothic style at least some of the time, including Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Flannery O'Connor. More recent works include Beloved by Toni Morrison, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, The Green Mile by Stephen King, The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, and other titles to be found in BookBrowse's gothic reading list.

This article was originally published in July 2011, and has been updated for the June 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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