Twilight by William Gay

Willaim Gay - TwilightI wrote this very short review awhile ago for an some publication on domesticity. Odd. Nothing came of it. So here it is: In William Gay’s recent novel Twilight, another nearly pitch-perfect Southern Gothic tale by the author of The Long Home and Provinces of Night, set in the piney woods, hollers, and decaying small towns of a 1950s Tennessee abutting a feral wilderness named the Harrikin. The home is the most dangerous place in rural America. Nearly everyone dies with a few yards of their front porch.

Kenneth Tyler, the son of a bootlegger, is working at gaining a degree of respectability in the small town of Center when his sister discovers that something is amiss with their recently buried father. The town undertaker has been molesting the town’s dead. When Tyler and his sister attempt to extort money from the necrophiliac, the undertaker enlists the local thug to silence them. The thug, Granville Sutter, is also the son of bootlegger. Sutter has made himself invulnerable in his willingness to do anything. He even lives in a neat and tidy home. His “room [was] neat and austere. Yesterday’s dishes washed and put away on the drainboard. Cot carefully made.”

After Sutter menaces Tyler, Tyler burns down Sutter’s home and seeks safety in the feral wilderness. What ensues is a long chase through a mythic landscape filled with backwoods homes. Tyler sits on an old goatherd’s rickety porch, travels through the ruins of a plantation-era mansion, visits the parlor of a senile witch, and finally finds solace in the remote farmhouse of born-again bootleggers. But the house in the wilderness proves the most dangerous place of all culminating in a grisly mass murder. Like a great old-time song, Twilight is an artful arrangement of southern tropes revealing the domestic Goth of the American household.

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