By James Lund
If you are not familiar with the work of William Gay, allow me to take a moment to introduce you.
William Gay was born in 1941 in Hohenwald, Tennessee. He began writing as a teenager and continued for the rest of his life. Although a lifelong writer, his work was not published until 1998 with his first appearance in a literary magazine. His first novel, The Long Home, was published in 1999.
The Long Home was a tour de force that caused many in the southern fiction community to sit up and take note. As more books and collections of short stories were released, comparisons were made. The name William Gay was being used in the same breath as Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner. It became clear that William Gay was one of the most skillful and genuine southern writers of his time.
In April 2015 it was announced that actor James Franco would produce, direct and star in the film adaptation of The Long Home, scheduled for release in 2017.
The Long Home was followed in 2000 by Provinces of Night, which became the film Bloodworth, starring Val Kilmer and Kris Kristofferson.
Next were two collections of short stories, I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down (2002) and Wittgenstein’s Lolita (2006).
In 2007, Gay’s novel Twilight was praised by famed author Stephen King as the best book of the year. King said, “Think No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy, and Deliverance, by James Dickey… then double the impact.”
Then, it was over. Gay died at his home in Hohenwald on February 23, 2012. He was 70 years old.
William Gay’s brand of literature is rich and honest. It is dark, with a touch of humor. Intelligent and culturally true. His writing often depicts rural southern life by shadowing terribly flawed, despicable characters that Gay somehow makes human. I have been told Gay was not fond of the term “southern gothic” when used to describe his work, but many use the term because they feel it truly does define the genre that he so beautifully mastered.
After his death, there was knowledge of at least one novel, and possibly others that Gay completed and had not yet published. This was publicly confirmed in the summer of 2014 when Dzanc Books announced they had acquired the world publishing rights for two of Gay’s previously unpublished works.
The first of these, Little Sister Death, was released on September 29, 2015. Gay’s powerful, provocative habit of going where other authors dare not, shines through in Little Sister Death. The novel is a retelling of the legend of the Bell Witch, a tale with which many may be familiar. It covers 200 years of supernatural events that take place on a plantation in Tennessee beginning with a first chapter that paints a horrific picture of a land that has possessed evil long before it became famous.
The book tells three stories, that of how the Beale family came to Tennessee, that of a tenant farmer who lived on the property during the Depression era and the story of David Bender, an author who, while taking a break from writing his next major work, is convinced by his agent to write a quick little paperback story to make some extra cash. He decides the tale of the Beale haunting will be his next, and while researching the legend, he becomes captivated with the story to the point of moving his family to an old home on the former Beale property.
David soon discovers that the evil on this property has a history of driving men mad, and he is no exception.
You can find copies of Little Sister Death at The Old Curiosity Book Shop on the square in downtown Columbia, or at your favorite indie bookstore. Remember to support your local indie shops, restaurants and publications. We appreciate each one of you.
James Lund, along with his wife Heather, own The Old Curiosity Book Shop in downtown Columbia, Tennessee. A native of Nashville, James moved to Columbia several years ago to get away from crowds and promptly opened a business whose purpose is to attract crowds.