The best books in the tradition of William Faulkner

The Books I Picked & Why

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

By Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Why this book?

There is something about this book that is behind everything I write. McCarthy inherits from Faulkner that grand, majestical perspective of an author writing through the eyes of God—far above the earth and indifferent to whatever beauty or violence he sees. There is an inevitability to his stories and his language—as though he were simply recording a narrative that is fated and absolute. McCarthy, like Faulkner before him—and Melville and Conrad and Dante—writes at the level of myth. Yes, the book is about the scalp trade along the Texas-Mexico border in the nineteenth century, but it is really about the big abstracts: humanity, good, evil, the apathetic universe.


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Sula

By Toni Morrison

Sula

Why this book?

Morrison taps into Faulkner’s gorgeously perverse relationship with Sigmund Freud. Her characters seem post-moral, driven by instinct, fundamental desire, and a willingness to tread in the liminal spaces of society where few will follow. The story is a Southern gothic fairytale about two girls whose lives are inescapably entangled against the backdrop of a town obsessed with suicide, violence, and sexual calamity. This book makes you feel lost in the woods—like an abandoned child from a tale by the Brothers Grimm.


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In the Rogue Blood

By James Carlos Blake

In the Rogue Blood

Why this book?

Mixing Faulkner’s gothic language with McCarthy’s sense of history, Blake writes a story of two brothers torn apart by circumstance and their experiences in the Mexican-American War.  Blake captures that sense of aimless wandering that echoes Faulkner’s stories—the rootless characters meandering across the country, not only unsure of their destinations but maybe even indifferent to them. To me, one of the most profound twists in the book is that the brothers don’t seem to care which side of the war they participate in. They are itinerants whose purpose in the world is simply circumstantial; they are instruments of universal forces that they neither question nor understand. 


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Smonk: Or Widow Town

By Tom Franklin

Smonk: Or Widow Town

Why this book?

Franklin’s book is one of the key inspirations for my book, The Reapers Are the Angels. Combining a frontier western sensibility with Faulkner’s wicked gothic brutality, Franklin tells an engrossing tale of a young prostitute who finds herself mired in a world of outlaws, perverts, dandies, and murderers. Frantically running back and forth between high comedy and guttered grotesquerie, this story feels like it’s just barely clinging to its own rails—and that sense of dangerous tipping is what feels so thrilling about it. What Franklin inherits from Faulkner is a wide-eyed beguilement with degeneracy—or what Conrad would call a “fascination of the abomination.”


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The Death of Sweet Mister

By Daniel Woodrell

The Death of Sweet Mister

Why this book?

Woodrell bridges the gap between Faulkner’s Southern gothic and the noir crime stories of Raymond Chandler and James Cain. This book features all the Oedipal perversion and body horror that reminds us of Faulkner, but this story of a sensitive boy and his debauched mother is also hardboiled and gritty as hell. For such a short book, this novel drops you down a very dark and a very deep well. 


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