It's More Than Just Meth Labs and Single Wides: A Rural Noir Primer

I think what catches most people off guard about these rural areas is the viciousness of the poverty and how it’s staring right at you…I think for a lot of readers that seems a little exotic.

--Daniel Woodrell

With most Americans, rural life has become exactly how Woodrell describes it: Exotic.

For most of us, an environment where we’re not stacked on top of each other, and instead living in a world where the closest neighbor is a mile or two away, and the view from the front window is of trees or cornfields or miles of untouched, barren desert seems very much like another world. A world that invokes a certain amount of dread in most city dwellers. Maybe it’s all that quiet and serenity? Or maybe it’s the idea of being alone and out in the middle of all that quiet and serenity with no cell phone reception, essentially cut off from the convenient cookie cutter world of the suburbs, and you somehow manage to stumble upon a rusted out single wide trailer with a strong chemical stink wafting from it, or into a pot field, and the people tending to that backwoods lab and field aren’t exactly happy to see you.

Much like mid-century noirists such as David Goodis and Charles Willeford, the writers of rural or “country” noir exploit the reader’s fear of the unknown, of commonplace “otherness” and the human being's natural xenophobic tendencies. But unlike the noirists of the past, the writers of rural noir seem to focus not simply on the transgressions of individuals, but on the greater issues facing rural America. The characters in these stories are the men and women who at one time would’ve been farmers, or mill and factory workers. Their lives at another point in history would’ve been good ones, but in the current economic climate where the family farm has become something of a myth, and most factory work has been shipped overseas, and the only jobs available are low paying and retail heavy, the idea of turning the remaining family acres into a highly profitable, albeit illegal, business in order to support their families seems entirely probable.

Simply put, these aren’t the conmen, grifters, hardmen, and backstabbing whores that are so commonplace in most crime fiction. The characters in rural noir fiction could easily be your cousin in Virginia, or you if you didn’t skip out of your middle of nowhere town after you graduated high school.

Now before I get started with things, let me state that this is not meant to be a definitive list. I know I’m wasting my breath when I say this, but I don’t want anyone jumping into the comments section whining and complaining about how I didn’t include Dirty White Boys or Elmore Leonard’s Raylan stories. All this list is meant for is to be used as a guide for the uninitiated. However, if you want to add other must read suggestions in the comments, knock yourself out. Just be nice. Oh, and no bitching and complaining about me not including Faulkner, O’Connor, Hanna, or McCarthy (okay, I cheat a little with McCarthy). Yes, I know these four writers were absolutely essential to the development of the gothic styles of most of these storytellers, but I don’t think any of us could truly call the aforementioned writers “noir” by any stretch of the imagination.

THE STORIES

Some of the best and most memorable pieces of rural noir have been, and continue to be, the heady number of short stories being produced within the genre. This was also the field I had the most difficulty narrowing down to a handful of choices:

'Poachers' by Tom Franklin

Considered by many to be the quintessential country noir novella (and in my humble opinion, one of the best short novels produced in the late 20th century) this story of a pack of wild backwoods Alabama brothers being hunted down by a near legendary game warden for the murder of a brother warden who was unfortunate enough to cross paths with the brothers is both brutal and elegantly written. Franklin’s prose is as hard charging as Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson at their best and is breathless in its execution. Franklin’s later novels, Hell at the Breach and Smonk, took on a more McCarthyesque tone, but in his most recent novel, 2011’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, he returned to the more straightforward style of Poachers.

'A Death in the Woods' by William Gay

My favorite William Gay story is about a man named Pettijohn whose seemingly ideal life is disrupted when the body of man who committed suicide is discovered near his property. Pettijohn quickly discovers that the dead man is his wife’s former lover, and his life crumbles. As with most William Gay short stories, the prose is tense, atmospheric, and carries true emotional weight. I can’t help but think that Gay was taken far too soon and that too many of his picturesque stories were lost to us. My greatest hope is that the Gay family will perhaps put together a posthumous collection or two of his early and unpublished writing for his rabid fanbase.

'The Solution to Brian’s Problem' by Bonnie Jo Campbell

The story of a weak willed husband desperate to break ties with his meth-addled wife is both dark and exceptionally funny, as the narrator, Brian, lists the many ways to get himself and their child away from her. The story is from Campbell’s National Book Award nominated, American Salvage, and was probably one of the more difficult selections I had to make for this list because Campbell’s near perfect collection contains so many truly great pieces of writing, and it seems unfair to select simply one. Also check out Campbell's epic novel Once Upon A River, which I personally think was more than worthy of being nominated for some major awards, and I'm not alone in that opinion, either.

'Peacekeeper' by Alan Heathcock

The story of a small town sheriff patrolling her town for looters during a flood and dreading that the waters may unbury a child killer she murdered the previous year. Heathcock’s debut, Volt, was at the top of the heap of stellar dark short story collections that appeared in 2011 (along with Frank Bill’s brutal, rough-hewn Crimes in Southern Indiana and Shann Ray ‘s Hemingwayesque, American Masculine). Heathcock’s fiction is delivered in a deadpan elegance, and you get the impression while reading through this book of loosely interconnected stories that Heathcock labored over each word that made it onto the final page.

'Controlled Burn' by Scott Wolven

I know more than a few writers (myself included) who tried to up their game as storytellers when they first read this stripped down masterpiece of a short story. The story is of a man living under the assumed name of Bill Allen who is on the run for the murder of a high school girl and works in a lumberyard along the Vermont/New Hampshire border. One Saturday, he’s hired out by his employer to burn the cornfield of a client who may or may not have marijuana planted among the rows. Like most of the stories on this list, the story is based around a horrendous crime, but at its core, it’s a story about identity, and how one can truly lose themselves in their attempts to escape from the past.

THE NOVELS

This wasn’t as tough on me to put together as the short story list, but it was still a bit of a pain in the ass to narrow it down to five books. But for anyone curious about the rural genre and are more inclined towards novel length works, these five are probably your best place to start.

'The Death of Sweet Mister' by Daniel Woodrell

In my opinion, there is no American writer working better than Woodrell. The content and themes of his stories transcends genre and often provides the most unflinching gaze at the lives of those who've choosen to live off the grid. The story of Shuggie Akins and his mother/paramour, Glenda, is Shakespearean in scope, yet Woodrell crafts his characters as people you may live next door to or those you may cross a busy street to get away from. The Death of Sweet Mister is Woodrell’s best novel, and one that I encourage everyone to read even if they decide not to pick up anything else on this list.

Buy The Death of Sweet Mister: A Novel from Amazon.com

 

'Father and Son' by Larry Brown

The one thing I think I can truly credit Brown with being is the (directly or indirectly) spiritual father of just about every writer on this list. Brown wrote with a furor and abandon that very few writers are able to achieve during their careers. Father and Son is not the best known of Brown’s novels, (that distinction goes to both Joe and Fay) but the brutal story of Glen Davis’ murderous rampage after being released from prison stands as a precursor to his best known novels, as well as the book which cemented him in the canon of American letters as one of our most potent and original storytellers.

Buy Father and Son from Amazon.com

 

'Child of God' by Cormac McCarthy

I told you I was going to cheat a bit with McCarthy. I mean, how could I not? Out of the four writers I stated earlier as being influences on the current rural novelists, McCarthy is the only one still living and producing some of his most imaginative fiction. (Think what you will, but I still think that The Road is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels released in the last twenty years.) But for most diehard fans of McCarthy’s, it’s his Tennessee novels that they cling to as his crowning achievements as a novelist, (Outside of Blood Meridian, of course.) and I’ll be more than happy to admit that I’m more of a pre-Suttree booster than a post, and Child of God is the best example of that period in McCarthy’s creative output. The story of Lester Ballard is both grotesque and darkly hilarious. A dispossessed loner, Ballard wanders the hills of eastern Tennessee committing some of the vilest acts McCarthy has ever captured on paper. Ballard is a literary ten-car pile up; the audience knows that what they’re reading is stomach churning, but they can’t look away, they have to see what this thing will do next. Child of God is a brilliant exploration into the mind of a killer, and in my opinion, McCarthy’s most accessible novel.

Buy Child of God from Amazon.com

 

'The Devil All The Time' by Donald Ray Pollock

Needless to say, the gang here at LitReactor are pretty big fans of Pollock, and with good reason. The Ohio novelist’s full-length debut is a brilliant take on the obsessive—however dark those obsessions may be—nature of human beings. This desperate multi-generational epic is a lean, muscular piece of writing, and much like Child of God, it, too, has the same traffic fatality effect; we can’t take our eyes off of Carl and Sandy Henderson as they lure yet another hitchhiker into their rundown beaters headed for a bloody, pornographic photo shoot, nor can we shy away knowing that poor, cursed Avrin Russell will eventually climb into one of those cars. The Devil All The Time is about as perfect as a debut novel comes, and I can’t wait for Pollock's next book.

Buy The Devil All the Time from Amazon.com

 

'Pike' by Benjamin Whitmer

I discovered the story of Douglas Pike almost by accident. My long time friend and editor Brian Lindenmuth tweeted out back in 2010 that he may have found his novel of the year. Now mind you, this was in July, so there was a lot of year left to cover. When I asked him what the book was, he sent me a PDF copy of Pike, and ordered me to read me to read it ASAP, and I did. The novel is a perfect combination of urban and rural setting, with a bulk of the story taking place in the racially charged city of Cincinnati, and along the backroads of the city. The story of Pike, his damaged business partner, Rory, and Pike’s granddaughter, Wendy, and their eventual showdown with the deranged cop (and most likely Wendy’s biological father.) Derrick Kreiger over the death of Wendy's mother. What Pike most easily captures is of a time and place where the world was set to explode, but yet somehow managed to survive despite the violence and hatred swarming around us.

Buy Pike (Switchblade) from Amazon.com


Honestly, the group of stories I’ve presented here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rural noir. With writers such as Frank Bill, Peter Farris, Frank Wheeler Jr., Jake Hinkson (although with Hinkson, I consider him to be one of the few and best writers of pure noir—along with Missouri novelist, Scott Phillips and LitReactor favorite, Nik Korpon—currently working.) Benjamin Percy, and Matthew McBride crafting new stories of the hard bitten men and women of our quickly evaporating countrysides, I expect that this exotic territory has a long future ahead of it, at least until our cities all start running together and the backwoods of America are nothing but a myth.

Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

Paul D Brazill's picture
Paul D Brazill from England is reading Ask The Dice by Ed Lynskey June 6, 2012 - 11:03am

Good stuff. Loads of writers there for me to catch up on.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson June 6, 2012 - 11:06am

So many things I want to read.

Charles Dodd White's picture
Charles Dodd White June 6, 2012 - 11:09am

Father and Son is a great novel. Dirty Work is a hell of a book as well.

 

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life June 6, 2012 - 11:12am

I can't possibly recommend Donald Ray Pollock's Devil all the Time enough--brilliant and insidious. Unfortunately, if you're a writer, I can't recommend his collected short stories 'Knockemstiff'. The stories are so godamned good you may throw your laptop out the window in despair.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 6, 2012 - 11:32am

Awesome stuff. I grew up in the second-poorest county in Iowa. I love this stuff.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like June 6, 2012 - 11:33am

Nice article.  (Being picky:  it's not Sultree, it's Suttree.)

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 6, 2012 - 11:43am

I second that about Knockemstiff.  Devil All the Time may be the best fiction book of last year, but Knockemstiff is in my top ten books of all time.

I can't wait to read all the books in this list.  (Well, the ones I haven't read already).

I'd put Winter's Bone up there instead of Death of Sweet Mister (or right beside it).  The protagonist in that book is the strongest character I've ever read. 

Kimber's picture
Kimber from Atlanta June 6, 2012 - 12:01pm

I have so much reading to do here. Fantastic stuff. Thanks for this.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 6, 2012 - 12:22pm

@Jeffrey and @howie - Love Knockemstiff...and if anything, when I read it it made me want to write more, not throw my laptop out the window. But I get what you're saying.

@Charles - I had a ton of trouble narrowing it down to just one Larry Brown novel.  Father and Son was the first of his full length novels (I read his collections Big Bad Love and Facing the Music first.) so I went with it. Dirty Work is amazing, though.

@Josh, @kimber, @Paul - Get reading, folks.

@JY - Meh, typo

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged June 6, 2012 - 12:27pm

Oh, and no bitching and complaining about me not including Faulkner

If 'Rural Noir' was a real genre, which it isn't and shouldn't be (the last thing we need is more genres to facilitate cookie-cutter stories from hacks), then Faulkner would be credited with inventing it. Did you think your little caveat would prevent someone from commenting on this?

but I don’t think any of us could truly call the aforementioned writers “noir” by any stretch of the imagination.

Noir is the most bogus genre of them all. It's definition seems to be broadened every year. I find modern writers obsessing about 'noir' to be so damn silly. Noirs are thrillers with a pretentious sounding name (b/c, you know, saying 'black' in French is oh so much more cultured than saying 'thriller'). If you can throw in a PI with a pinstripe suit then you get bonus points from the aficionodos. Leave out the femme-fatale and the aficionodos can debate about whether it's true noir or not.

To me, noir is a term that refers specifically to thriller movies made from the thirties to the mid sixties, usually based on pulp novels. There are more modern odes to noir films, such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, but there's no way they could have gotten away with contemporary settings.

That's what most people don't understand about noir. It shouldn't be considered a genre. A genre should be both specific and broad. Comedy is specific in that it must be funny. It's broad in that many things are funny and comedy isn't restricted to a certain era. Noir is broad in that it means it's a thriller. It's specific in that . . . femme fatale? P.I.? Dark atmosphere? Nope. No specifics work. Noir is far too attached to the time period in which it was birthed for anything but a period piece like L.A. Confidential to merit the title. It's attached to its era - prohibition, PIs, women as second class temptresses; these things are of the past.

I never understood why Blue Velvet was considered noir. I don't understand how half the stories that cling to the noir label are considered noir. It's often said that noir is a style rather than a genre, but if that's true, doesn't that make Citizen Kane a noir and not Chinatown?

My theory as to why authors love to cling to the 'noir' label: Because it doesn't have the negative connotations that 'pulp' has.

AUTHOR: I write pulp fiction.

JOE SHMOE: What's that mean?

AUTHOR: My work is derivative of works that were so shitty they were only published on the cheapest ass paper available.

JOE SHMOE: Why would I want to read that shit?

--

AUTHOR: I write noir.

JOE SHMOE: What's that?

AUTHOR: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

[two hours later]

AUTHOR: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

JOE SHMOE: I have no idea what you said but it certainly sounded articulate and cultured and nuanced and I'll assume you're much more intelligent than me and your work is worth reading. What's it about?

AUTHOR: A private detective is caught in a web of deception and danger when he takes on a case for a beautiful blonde.

JOE SHMOE: Sounds original!

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life June 6, 2012 - 12:50pm

But if there was no noir genre, how would I arrange my bookshelves? Alphabetically? I'm not an animal!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 6, 2012 - 1:12pm

@razorsharp - Wow, you're one angry fucking dude. Anyway, I'm not a big proponent of genre and the classification of fiction and with any "genre" (i.e., literary/contemporary, SF, horror, mystery, etc.,) there's a stunning amount of unoriginal work being published. But the reason for this is because people buy it. People like femme femme fatales, they like P.I.'s, that's why most of these tropes are still utilized.

And yes, Citizen Kane is noir and Chinatown is hardboiled, there's a difference between the two.

And yes, Faulkner could easily be considered noir, particularly As I Lay Dying and the Reivers, and he could easily be considered the father of this particular style of fiction.

Thanks for reading.

nigelpbird's picture
nigelpbird June 6, 2012 - 1:18pm

Keith Rawson, you have a big mind as well as a big heart.  What a well-written piece.  I reckon I'm about a quarter-way through the list, in part due to following your recommendations in the past.  They've all been real gems, so I have no doubt that there's more great reading to come.

I have a question.  These are American Rural Noir stories.  I wonder if there's anything outside of the US that comes close in terms of the things you mention in your intro.  I'd love to see a list if you could offer one.

Thanks.

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life June 6, 2012 - 1:26pm

I have a barely-begun horr-noir book set in rural Saskatchewan, where I grew up. I was never widely-read in Canadian authors, but there seem to be more literary and sci-fi writers than anything else up North. Probably because of our superior educational system. 

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 6, 2012 - 1:45pm

I don't think we should get all bent of shape on naming it. Quite frankly, it sprung out of Southern Gothic, but it sounds silly to label something Southern Gothic if it didn't take place in the south. Basically, it's dark fiction in a rural setting.

Not that it matters at all. If they are good books, they are good books. If people didn't know about them, now they did. That's what really matters. As a matter of fact, the word noir comes from "roman noir" which means "black novel." It didn't get pinned to the crime genre until someone came up with the "film noir" name.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this June 6, 2012 - 1:47pm

@razorsharp, I disagree. Noir isn't the most bogus genre of all. You know what's a bogus genre? Historical fiction. It's an oxymoron.

But, anyway, yes, genre classifications are pretty fluid, and we could spend hours talking about the difference between noir and hardboiled (hypothetically, I don't want to actually do it, because I have a headache), but your theory that noir is used in place of pulp so that we can sound fancier is complete nonsense. What does that even mean? You are probably the only person on the planet who has ever thought that. And also, the paper quality has gotten way better. 

The other thing is, if I can say noir or rural noir or hardboiled, and people (generally) know what I'm talking about, they're genres, even if you dislike them and wish (and insist) they weren't. Which is how the world works. I wish things would stop existing because I don't want them to. Then there'd be no Kardashians or mashups or 80s nostalgia. But, such is the lot we've been given in life, to have things like rural noir, which is a genre, unfortunately for you I guess, but fortunately for everyone else.

Anyway. Great article, Keith. I'm really ashamed to say I haven't read a lot of rural noir, the genre. I put William Gay on my list when he died and everyone spoke so highly of him, and Woodrell has always been up there. I like the possibilities of rural noir, the genre. I'm going to have to go get myself a cabin in the woods or something. 

Cheers. 

TommySalami's picture
TommySalami from New Jersey is reading Killing Floor, by Lee Child June 6, 2012 - 2:01pm

I actually agree with senor crabby up there about noir's definition being both too narrow for some and too broad for others, but he hasn't read any if he mistakes noir novels for thrillers, and thinks that pinstripe PI's and femme fatales are still tropes of the genre any more than men in bubble headed space suits are necessary for science fiction.

'Pulp' began as an insult, but has since been embraced by fans and writers alike.

Rural noir exists as a genre because New York dismissed Faulkner and others as "Regional." (You know, they write about those other places, where upper middle class twits aren't busy staring up their own assholes and wondering why it's so damn hard to be rich and white.)

 

 

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 6, 2012 - 2:26pm

Bargain priced copies of Women and Other Animals, by Bonnie Jo Campell are available at Amazon for $4.80.  12 left.

blindenmuth's picture
blindenmuth June 6, 2012 - 5:32pm

A couple of things:

Rural noir may or may not be a genre. I agree that it is debatable.  But really it's just taxonomy because it does exist, it is its own thing.

I'm not the only one to think this but Fuck Faulkner.

I spoke at an MWA event last night and basically said the following: that noir is not a sub-genre, despite what it's practitioners, fans and publishers would have you believe.  It is a strain that runs through American (primarily but not always) fiction. While it is often associated with crime fiction the two are not inter-changeable. Is noir, as a term, malleable and ever changing? Yes it is. That's why it can be hard to spot and should be treasured when found. It is also why noir is resistant to firm definition.

But again, we're really just talking taxonomy because noir does exist (even if not as much as some would claim, particularly as folks have begun to self-identify their work as noir when it is really hardboiled) whether people want to acknowledge it or not. In some respects it's like gay marriage. You can deny that it exists and fight that it shouldn't but those two dudes still love each other.

You undermine your argument when you, mockingly, say "and the aficionodos can debate about whether it's true noir or not." then start the very next paragraph with "To me, noir is a term that..."

Speaking of that paragraph. If that really is your definition of noir then you are just as bad as the wet-asses with the narrow scope definition.

"saying 'black' in French is oh so much more cultured than saying 'thriller'"

Oh you found it, the weakness of the fiction that some of us like.  You got us.  Why hasn't anyone ever thought of that pithy comment about noir being French for blac...oh wait, they have. Lots of times and its always been a stupid argument that wants to be a gotcha moment but isn't.

I think I'll just let someone who is a whole hell of a lot smarter then me have the final say. Take it away Stephen Graham Jones:

"how to even hate noir? I mean, I can at least understand bizarro or horror (or fantasy or sf) not being to some people's tastes, and them working up some elaborate wall of rationalization to keep their shelfspace (and heads) 'safe.' but noir? not at all saying it's innocuous enough to duck that kind of targeting. just that I can't imagine it not being to people's tastes. it's about people being people, and it's sometimes stylized, stripped down, then built back up even more spare, more direct. what's to hate in that? I say if you don't dig noir, then maybe you don't dig fiction."

Moving on.

One guy who doesn't seem to get much love in the crime fiction community is Roger Allan Skipper (The Baptism of Billy Bean). I've started reading The Wowser, Last Call For the Living, and Ghosting and they are all very promising so far.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 6, 2012 - 5:46pm

@razorsharp, that's a pretty embarrassing rant. You should read more and form opinions after.

 

Going less hard genre, Chris Offutt - Kentucky Straight: Stories is more along the lines of "Grit Lit" but still has that harrowing viscera of writers such as this list, if you like Tom Franklin or Larry Brown I'd say check it. Dorothy Allison - Bastard Out of Carolina might fall close to these as well, though it seems a love/hate book.

Though maybe barely tangentially Noir or Transgressive, Harry Crews wrote more gritty and horrific stuff than I can think from any of these. Feast of Snakes could maybe pass for a Jim Thompson style Noir if Thompson were raised by feral hogs.

And, yeah, I know you said you kept Hannah off the list but I'd still throw props to Yonder Stands Your Orphan, just cuz.

Yeah, being from the South and trying to write dark/crime, it's pretty exciting and intimidating to see all these people pulling it off so well. Daniel Woodrell's huge right now, Don Pollock's killing it and getting recognition for his brilliance, Frank Bill is putting out some of the toughest stories out there. I'm interested to see where this genre is going.

Vinny Mannering's picture
Vinny Mannering from Boston, MA. USA is reading On Fiction Writing June 6, 2012 - 7:43pm

@Keith - Great article. Added a whole bunch to my Amazon wishlist. Have you read "Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You" by William Gay? It's a fantastic short story, and was a great introduction for me into this genre (or sub-genre, or "style" if we have to nix all the cool-sounding words from our lexicon, I mean, vocabulary).

nicolarainjordan's picture
nicolarainjordan June 7, 2012 - 3:20am

Thanks for this, lots of exciting-sounding works to catch up on, these kind of lists are really useful. Hadn't heard of Bonnie Jo CampbelI so I've just bought Once Upon A River. I second Mr Bird's interest in rural noir from other countries and I'm keeping an eye out for more in this genre (yes, genre) from female authors.

Charles Dodd White's picture
Charles Dodd White June 7, 2012 - 4:29am

I don't understand the underlying animosity toward Faulkner, blinden, Sanctuary is pretty much the grandaddy of all we're talking about here.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 7, 2012 - 5:34am

@nicolarainjordan - Reinfield brought up Dorothy Allison, she's an excellent example of a female novelist working in this particular style.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade June 7, 2012 - 7:42am

Great list (again) Keith. Look here. I'm already behind in my personal reading list. You're really tasking me...

I enjoyed razorsharp's rant. There's some truth in it. Brave to post it here....

I've always grouped the "noirs" and "Southern Gothic" in the catagory "American Grotesque". I grew up (like Jack) in a very poor rural area and I love this stuff too...

blindenmuth's picture
blindenmuth June 7, 2012 - 10:03am

There was nothing underlying about it. I said it and was was done. Maybe it/he is the granddaddy but that doesn't mean I have to like it/him.  Carroll John Daly is credited with creating the hardboiled style of writing (including the genre) but it's terrible fiction.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 7, 2012 - 10:42am

@Boone - I grew up in a similar area, so I think that's why I gravitate towards it as well.

As far as razorsharp's response, the whole genre v. literary argument has zero steam for me.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 7, 2012 - 11:24am

I'm with you Boone. The southern gothic writers have been a huge influence on me. It was really the first stuff I had read that I could relate to the location. It seems like most books take place in a city somewhere, and I had never lived in a town of more than 200 people. I am all for the term American Grotesque. I've been referring to it as Rural Gothic since I started writing similar stuff several years ago. Honestly, I had never heard of Rural Noir.

Personally, I love Faulkner, O'Connor, and the like. It's not everyone's taste, but nothing is.

Andrez Bergen's picture
Andrez Bergen from Melbourne, Australia + Tokyo, Japan is reading 'The Spirit' by Will Eisner June 7, 2012 - 12:44pm

Yep, loads to catch up on - ta. I'm pretty sure this genre would translate well to outback Australia (movies like Snowtown have already explored this), but less people there and significantly less cultural diversity.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones June 7, 2012 - 1:16pm

@Andrez - Do you think the Proposition qualifies? Or do you think of it as strictly a western?

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 8, 2012 - 10:06am

@Jack I think "Rural Noir" was Woodrell's tag for his stuff, as he sits pretty tightly in the Crime genre, and it's kind of been retrofitted to the grit lit/southern gothic books distinguished with more crime-based plots. Anyway I think the "Rural" is a good tag because most everybody doing good Southern Gothic style nowadays aren't even from the South.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. June 14, 2012 - 8:12am

In case anyone is wondering, Bonnie Jo Campbell's book of short stories "Women and Other Animals" is BRILLIANT.  Gorilla Girl is the story that really got me (so far).