Monday, August 8, 2011

Southern Gods

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was just less than three years ago I was blogging about an unpublished novel I’d read. The world has moved on, as they say, and now you can read Southern Gods for yourself, and you really should.

The book is set in the American South in the post World War II era. Bull Ingram, a veteran of the war who left it with skills suitable only for violence, works as an enforcer in Memphis. A local DJ hires him to find a bluesman named Ramblin’ John Hastur, whose music, broadcast on pirate radio stations, is said to have magical powers, and drives some men insane on hearing it. Bull’s quest, which becomes as much about his own redemption as finding Hastur, takes him through the heart of the South and the blues sub-culture which was just beginning to break out into the wider world. He journeys toward a rendezvous with Hastur, a young woman named Sarah and her daughter Franny, and his own destiny.

This book is a detective story, a period piece, a road novel, and a horror tale. Its synthesis is greater than the sum of its parts. John does something increasingly rare in modern fiction: creating characters that seem real enough for us to care about them. You will want to come along on Bull’s journey.

A lot of writers these days seem to miss a central truth about their vocation: It is a combination of art and craft. They embrace the art side, telling stories, but shy away from the hard work of crafting words together in just the right order, the tedious business of finding the proper phrase to communicate to the reader what the writer is attempting to say. John is not one of those people. He labors hard at finding the right word, the appropriate phrase. Southern Gods was already a good book when I first read it in an early draft, better than the vast majority of what’s published today, but John was willing to perform surgery on it to make it even better. That dedication to his craft is going to make John an important writer, not just in the relatively small horror field, but in all of fiction.

John is a personal friend of mine, a fact you should know when you read this. But regardless of his poor choice of friends, he truly is an outstanding writer, and Southern Gods is a book you should read. It is a gem in the rubble of derivative zombie novels and torture porn that dark fantasy consists of at the present time. You can get a copy for under $10 from Amazon and other retailers, and you won’t be sorry you did.

1 comment:

Kent said...

SOUTHERN GODS is one of the best debut novels I've read in a long, long time.

I was also impressed with the music of this novel. John really got it down right. It's rare that an author can write about music within a novel without coming off as pandering to current tastes/trends, ham-fisted, or just plain old inept.