I know that traditionally, in the bookish community, summer means wholesome and upbeat beach reads, but when I think of the Dog Days of this season and its stiflingly hot afternoons, I find the Southern Gothic genre most appealing.
Though the Dog Days of summer (July 3rd – August 11th) do not sustain a negative reputation in modern society and pop culture, they were considered by the Ancient Greeks and Romans to be “a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest,” where individuals were driven to madness by the overbearing heat. Comparably, the Southern Gothic genre is an eerily intriguing subset of fiction, characterized by a fair share of grotesquerie, madness, ominous settings, dark history, and even the supernatural.
If you want to take a stroll over to the dark side with me, here are five haunting Southern Gothic reads to round out your summer bookshelf.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Kicking off our list is a staple thriller by Gillian Flynn, which follows a troubled protagonist, Camille, as she returns to her Missouri hometown to report on two murders. Overarchingly, the plot of this novel can be deemed a murder mystery that overlaps into psychological thriller territory. Full of twists and turns, Camille’s troubling homecoming tale leads to an exposition of her truly haunting childhood trauma. All of which come together for a dark and gritty novel that stands outs as a terrifying triumph under the Southern Gothic umbrella.
The Sisters of Glass Ferry by Kim Michelle Richardson
This 2017 release set in rural Kentucky revolves around two twin sisters: Flannery and Patsy. The latter goes missing on prom night circa 1952, setting the stage for a mystery tale that spans decades. Particularly, when a clue finally turns up 20 years after Patsy’s disappearance, her sister becomes immersed in confronting the truth about her small town of Glass Ferry and its many harbored secrets. If you want to interchange a summer romance beach read for a different kind of page-turner, this haunting thriller is just the thing!
Now You Know It All by Joanna Pearson
If you’re looking to squeeze in some Southern Gothic reading but don’t want to commit to a full-length novel, this collection of short stories is a perfect place to start. Joanna Pearson’s 2021 release is a masterclass in short fiction work that is sure to keep your attention (and get under your skin). Each tale provides striking, unsettling character snapshots with prose lingering on the ominous and otherworldly. Some mini-mystery standouts in the collection include “Mr. Forble,” “Field Glasses,” and “Boy in the Barn.”
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Published in 1948 when Capote was a mere 23 years old, this whirlwind of a Southern Gothic novel explores themes of isolation and lost innocence through a coming-of-age structure. Deemed to be semi-autobiographical in its content, Other Voices, Other Rooms follows a 13-year-old boy named Joel who just lost his mother. Bid to return to a father that abandoned him at infancy, Joel shows up at a rural, broken-down mansion in Alabama, where he meets a cast of new faces. For a true immersion in all of the most enigmatic Southern Gothic elements, check out this early work by the man behind the famous In Cold Blood.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
In this National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward draws upon her deep-rooted family ties to Mississippi to create an evocative Southern Gothic staple. Rotating between three unique narrators (young Jojo, his mother, and a ghost named Richie), readers encounter borderline hallucinatory chapters overflowing with themes of loss and loneliness, which take a deep dive into America’s racial history. It’s an emotionally stirring read that will transform your conception of a ghost story.
Whether you’re a seasoned Southern Gothic reader or branching out into new genres, I hope this short list points you toward a new summer favorite. If you’re on the hunt for more book recommendations, click here! In the meantime, stay cool, and don’t let the Dog Days drive you mad!