on 9 November 2002
I've lived in Tennessee for almost 30 years, in the urban setting
of Knoxville. I'm a caver, and the hunting for new caves takes
me to small towns and deeply rural areas in rugged terrain, where
one can be 40 miles from the nearest supermarket. You learn that
there are places to be avoided, where strangers are not welcome.
(You can also find such places in London, Glasgow, etc., as well
as in parts of the English countryside.) The law can be far away
and not impartial in some locations. Provinces of Night deals
with small-town Tennessee rather than the deeply rural and remote
parts. The central figure, Fleming Bloodworth, is not violence-
prone, but violence is often not far away. There is humor and
tenderness, as well as violence and death, but that's often how
life can be. Tennessee is not a slaughterhouse, but it's not
unusual to see "Three Dead in Cocke County Bar Fight" on the
William Gay started writing at age 52. He seems to have been
strongly influenced by the novels of Cormac McCarthy, especially
those set in Tennessee (Suttree, The Orchard Keeper, Child of
God--all set in Knoxville and the surrounding counties). The
title comes from McCarthy's dark and brooding novel Child of God.
Gay's first novel, The Long Home, has a flavor similar to Child
of God, but Provinces of Night is closer to Suttree and The
Orchard Keeper. Gay's writing skills are on a par with McCarthy:
after reading Provinces of Night and The Long Home, I reread
McCarthy's novels, and took a long pause when I encountered the
phrase "provinces of night" in Child of God. I wondered in
McCarthy was writing under a pseudonym.
There's a great power and lyrical quality in Gay's writing. When
I got halfway through Provinces of Night I began to dread turning
the pages, since every page read brought me closer to the end.
So I ordered The Long Home from Amazon, taking comfort in the
knowledge that hundreds of more pages would be waiting for me.
Gay's third work, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down, a
collection of short stories, has just been published, and it
contains some of the finest short stories I've ever read.
Gay is a great new addition to our current Southern writers.
He's the darker side to the rural South: for the lighter side
read T.R. Pearson's whimsical novel A Short History of a Small
Slower than some of William Gay's other work (I would recommend Twilight, which blew me away, as well as The Long Home), Provinces of Night is concerned with the fortunes of the Bloodworth family. We are in red-neck country, 1952, and hillbilly eccentricities abound. E F Bloodworth is the patriarch and in common with most of the male members of the clan seems possessed with a ferocious wanderlust. This time though, he's wandering homewards, but as he arrives his sons set off to roam. Boyd is looking for his wife, but only so that he can kill the travelling salesman that took her away from him. Alcoholic Warren finds money-making easy, but he's absent for much of the book on various schemes and vague-seeming projects. Brady, the youngest is the only one who stays put, and he's an oddball who thinks he can hex people into doing his bidding as he communes with his pack of wild dogs and looks after his old mother who is fast succumbing to dementia. Warren's son, good-looking Neal is a heartless womaniser and the only steady hand in the pack is Fleming, son of Boyd.
Gay's landscapes are faultlessly painted on the retina and his humour is neatly tuned to the hard-wrought lives depicted. There are some brilliant set-pieces, including a winter ice storm and a visit to an out-of-state drive-in movie in a clapped out car. Characterisation does sometimes seem to be chosen from a stereotypical wild west dressing-up box, but Gay's writing style is intense, atmospheric and evocative, at times poetic. The book sags a little in the mid-section and the best story-line belongs to Fleming Bloodworth and his attenuated courting of the enigmatic Raven Lee. Mostly satisfying and engrossing, there are a few hitches and schematic diversions in this journey to an unashamedly romantic denouement.
on 9 October 2012
I love this book! It captures the South and the era so well that it makes me want to sit out on the porch of some old house and watch a lazy summer evening go by. I am genuinely upset to hear that Mr Gay has now passed because there are only a handful of his works to enjoy. If you buy this book, savour it and all his others... there won't be any more like it.
on 28 June 2009
I discovered Cormac McCarthy, with 'The Road,' and was so 'blown away' that I bought all of his books...and remained in awe of his superb writing. Impatiently waiting for new ones by him, I chanced on the reviews and through them discovered William Gay (as a similar style.)I read this book of short stories a couple of weeks ago & was not disappointed. I am now halfway through his other, 'Twilight,'which is just as un-put-downable. I look forward to 'The Long Home,' which is patiently waiting on my bookshelf. A genius of a writer!
If anyone out there can recommend more in 'this style of writing,' I would appreciate. I already have a Flannery O'Connor, waiting to savour also! Best, Marian