Reviews > Published on September 28th, 2015

Bookshots: 'Little Sister Death' By William Gay

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Little Sister Death

Who wrote it:

The Beale family were an eerie—albeit well liked— bunch of people, and Gay expertly weaves their history and the myths surrounding them into the main storyline.

The late, legendary Tennessee novelist, William Gay.

Plot in a Box:

David Binder is a successful writer with a budding young family. But Binder’s suffering from writer’s block and becomes obsessed with the Beale family curse, moves the family to Tennessee and horror and walking nightmares commence!

Invent a new title for this book:

We’re All Right Here

Read this if you like:

Pretty much anything by Faulkner, McCullers, and McCarthy.

Meet the book's lead(s):

David Binder, writer and a huge fucking asshole.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

Binder would be played by John Hawkes.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Tennessee? I’ve heard nice things. So, yeah, why not?

What was your favorite sentence?

… The man said something short and guttural, a curse or an invocation. She reached the child up to—what? Mayfield wondered. Grandfather? Father? Then he dropped the pan of water he was holding and screamed, for the man had turned and thrown the baby into the fire.

The Verdict:

I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a huge fan of the late William Gay. I discovered his novels during a time in my writing life where I was starting to become a little jaded and more than a little bored with what I’d been reading, and his disturbing little hunks of Tennessee life, such as Twilight and Provinces Of Night, re-sparked my interest as well as my imagination of what could be done with dark fiction. I was also lucky enough to be the last person to have interviewed Will, and I’ll always treasure the four hour long conversation I had with the man.

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about Little Sister Death. Now, because of my bias towards Gay’s work, I’ll let you know right off that I liked it. But that’s the key word: Liked, not loved. What I liked about it was the folklore and the history of the Beale hauntings. The Beale family were an eerie—albeit well liked— bunch of people, and Gay expertly weaves their history and the myths surrounding them into the main storyline. These bits of folklore would have made for a pretty terrifying novel all on their own without interjecting the modern world into it.

And this is my biggest issue with Little Sister Death. The novel’s protagonist, David Binder, seems almost unnecessary considering all of the rich and horrifying material Gay had to work with. But I can understand Gay’s point of view in including Binder (who’s more or less a thinly veiled, albeit highly fictionalized, version of Gay) and his troubled young family into the narrative to demonstrate how a modern family might react when confronted with this kind of otherworldly evil.

Now if you’re a long time reader of Gay’s, I’ll definitely recommend that you pick up a copy of Little Sister Death. As with all of Gay’s novels, his descriptions are very lush and evocatively written. But, in the same breath, be prepared, because just as the history of the Beale family sucks you in, you get spit out into the awkward, trembling hands of a somewhat one dimensional protagonist. For first time readers, maybe consider picking up a copy of Twilight or Gay’s excellent short story collection, I Can’t Wait To See That Evening Sun Go Down, and then come back to Little Sister Death.

About the author

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.

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