The best contemporary Southern Gothic novels

Why am I passionate about this?

I was lucky enough to land a job teaching English at the University of Montevallo, a small public liberal arts college where I have had the opportunity to explore my strange academic interests and teach classes with titles like “Am I Human?” and “Southern Neogothic II: Disability, Hicksploitation, Meat.” When I got tenure, I also had the time and freedom to try my hand at writing the kind of Southern Gothic, Bizarro, and Horror tales that I have always adored. From Mad Magazine to MaddAddam, I have always craved dark satire, body horror, and the grotesque. It’s in my blood. 


I wrote...

Ballad of Jasmine Wills

By Lee Rozelle,

Book cover of Ballad of Jasmine Wills

What is my book about?

Channel surfing, I saw a commercial where people were eating worms for the reality TV program Fear Factor. I thought, why would somebody watch worm eating for entertainment? What would I eat for all that media attention? These questions compelled me to write a book where an overweight banker is kidnapped and made the star of a reality TV show called Diet Extreme. Locked inside a studio in the middle of the Alabama woods, Jasmine is tortured with fancy food, brainwashed with self-help videos, and badgered with exercise routines for her growing mass of livestream fans.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wise Blood

Lee Rozelle Why did I love this book?

Georgia writer Flannery O’Connor makes me cackle and cringe at the same time. Her debut novel Wise Blood is rich with dark satire and cutting humor, disappointment with the modern world, and profound pity for it. After his release from the military, Hazel Motes turns atheist street preacher in an absurd and ultimately horrifying struggle with his own beliefs. To promote his “Church Without Christ,” a mummified dwarf is swiped by Enoch Emery, a troubled young man who impersonates movie star gorilla “Gonga” so that someone might shake his hand. 

By Flannery O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wise Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor's first novel, is the story of Hazel Motes who, released from the armed services, returns to the evangelical Deep South. There he begins a private battle against the religiosity of the community and in particular against Asa Hawkes, the 'blind' preacher, and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter. In desperation Hazel founds his own religion, 'The Church without Christ', and this extraordinary narrative moves towards its savage and macabre resolution.

'A literary talent that has about it the uniqueness of greatness.' Sunday Telegraph

'No other major American writer of our century has constructed a fictional world so energetically…


Book cover of Sing, Unburied, Sing

Lee Rozelle Why did I love this book?

Jojo in this novel breaks my heart. His mother neglects him, his father is in prison, and he must take care of his three-year-old sister Kayla on his own. He and the other characters in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi are haunted by drugs, poverty, and backwoods racism. They are also haunted by ghosts. Jojo’s mother Leonie sees the phantasmic presence of brother Given, and Jojo is followed by the ghost of a boy who was cruelly murdered in Parchman prison. Apparitions wait in the tall trees. 

By Jesmyn Ward,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Sing, Unburied, Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2018 WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD 2017 ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S BEST BOOKS OF 2017 SELECTED AS A BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE NEW STATESMAN, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, TIME AND THE BBC Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Finalist for the Kirkus Prize Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award 'This wrenching new novel by Jesmyn Ward digs deep into the not-buried heart of the American nightmare. A must' Margaret Atwood 'A powerfully…


Book cover of Twilight

Lee Rozelle Why did I love this book?

It’s fitting that the creepiest novel on my list begins with a wagon full of corpses and a rural graveyard pocked with exhumed caskets. William Gay’s Twilight revolves around the dreadful plots of Fenton Breece, a dapper, well-spoken mortician whose ghoulish habits will keep even the heartiest reader up at night. After witnessing the undertaker stealing a family burial vault, young Tyler and his sister Corrie discover that Breece has been mutilating the bodies of the people he buries. A blackmail plot ensues, an assassin hired. Then things get really, really bad. 

By William Gay,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Twilight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Suspecting that something is amiss with their father's burial, teenager Kenneth Tyler and his sister Corrie venture to his gravesite and make a horrific discovery: their father, a whiskey bootlegger, was not actually buried in the casket they bought for him. Worse, they learn that the undertaker, Fenton Breece, has been grotesquely manipulating the dead. Armed with incriminating photographs, Tyler becomes obsessed with bringing the perverse undertaker to justice. But first he must outrun Granville Sutter, a local strongman and convicted murderer hired by Fenton to destroy the evidence. What follows is an adventure through the Harrikin, an eerie backwoods…


Book cover of The New and Improved Romie Futch

Lee Rozelle Why did I love this book?

I love this novel because it mixes Southern Gothic with speculative fiction in a hilarious epic struggle between man and hog. When middle-aged taxidermist Romie Futch becomes a research subject in the shady Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience, he becomes both super genius and guinea pig, his middle-aged brain now brilliant beyond comprehension. Troubled by errant downloads that track his thoughts and actions, Romie turns taxidermy into pop art as he hunts down the legendary super pig “Hogzilla.” This is the funniest, wittiest book I’ve read in a long time. 

By Julia Elliott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New and Improved Romie Futch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of The Wilds, which Publishers Weekly called “a brilliant combination of emotion and grime, wit and horror,” comes a debut novel that is part dystopian satire, part Southern Gothic tall tale: a disturbing yet hilarious romp through a surreal New South where newfangled medical technologies change the structure of the human brain and genetically modified feral animals ravage the blighted landscape.


Down on his luck and still pining for his ex-wife, South Carolina taxidermist Romie Futch spends his evenings drunkenly surfing the Internet before passing out on his couch. In a last-ditch attempt to pay his mortgage,…


Book cover of Annihilation

Lee Rozelle Why did I love this book?

The first book of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is fascinating to me because of its treatment of natural environments. Uncanny elements found in decayed landscapes—frightening spaces that trouble the tales of Edgar Allan Poe—have been turned on themselves in a Southern Gothic world where ecological wounds are mysteriously disappearing. At the border of Area X, the land changes from postindustrial grotesquerie to a new posthuman freshness. Because of this expanding detoxification, the Southern Gothic landscape is not a source of horror but rather hope for our ecological future. 

By Jeff VanderMeer,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Annihilation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A contemporary masterpiece' Guardian

THE FIRST VOLUME OF THE EXTRAORDINARY SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY - NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY ALEX GARLAND (EX MACHINA) AND STARRING NATALIE PORTMAN AND OSCAR ISAAC

For thirty years, Area X has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border - an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness.

The Southern Reach, a secretive government agency, has sent eleven expeditions to investigate Area X. One has ended in mass suicide, another in a hail of gunfire, the eleventh in a fatal cancer epidemic.

Now four women embark on the…


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Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

Book cover of Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

Ralph Hickok Author Of Vagabond Halfback: The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Green Bay and my dad was the official scorer for the Packers, so I was immersed in pro football history even as a child. During my careers as a newspaper feature writer and editor and as an advertising copywriter, I also became a sports historian. My magnum opus was “The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History,” 650,000 words. But my favorite by far is my biography of Johnny Blood. I was 12 or 13 when I decided I wanted to write it, 33 when I began working on it, 38 when I finished it, and 78 when it was finally published.

Ralph's book list on the history of pro football

What is my book about?

From Kirkus Reviews: "This debut short-story collection paints the wistful life of a newspaper journalist as seen through his sexual and romantic encounters...

Throughout, Hickok writes in an assured style, pulling readers along. The narrow sexual focus results in a distorted picture, yet other aspects of Art's life emerge at the edges—his intelligence, his career as a journalist, and even the sincerity with which he gives in to his male urges and construes sex as love... 

Subdued yet alluring; a pensive reflection on the male psyche."

Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

What is this book about?

A man arrives in a new city, hoping to start a new life, but he’s still haunted by memories of past loves…
A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages…
Two teenagers enjoy sexual experimentation when she babysits for her little brother while her parents are out drinking…
A high school boy has a crush on an older woman who identifies with Molly Bloom…
A college freshman falls in love with a high school freshman and is amazed at the depths of her passion…
A guy wins…


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