When it comes to Gothic literature, it’s absolutely impossible to avoid its literary cousin—I mean Southern Gothic literature. Southern Gothic novels are deeply rooted in the Gothic style, which had been popular in European literature.
But before I deep dive into the list of Popular Southern Gothic Books, let me set the atmosphere for those who are new to the genre and just getting started. Those strong-hearts who are already familiar with the crossroads of Southern Gothic may skip the the introduction section and directly jump to list.
Here we go!
What is Southern Gothic?
Southern Gothic is a literary genre that emerged in the 19th century American South and is widely popular to this day. It has influences of classical Gothic literature, but is centered on the social and racial tensions of the Southern United States, especially in the period after the Civil War, which divided the country between industrialized and rural south. Southern Gothic novels focus on macabre, sinister, supernatural, grotesque, decay and explore social and cultural problems of the time.
Early American Gothic fiction followed in the footsteps of its European cousins, exploring castles and forests and spooky suburbia. But in Southern Gothic novels, the grand and dilapidated setting of traditional Gothic literature is replaced by ramshackle plantations, isolated deserts, swamps, ghettos, and bayous; all bearing the scars of the South’s suffering.
Moreover, in Southern Gothic novels, the terror is firmly rooted within the land, the home, the family, the blood…There are no monsters of myth, just the horrors and hardships of brutal reality.
Southern Gothic Literature Elements
Southern Gothic novels use following elements to explore and critique the social issues of the South.
- Madness and Ugliness
- Darkness and Uneasiness
- Isolation and abandonment
- Magical realism/ fantastic
- Death and decay
- Dark and dreary mood
- Good vs. evil
- Dark humor
- Grotesque imagery
- Highly charged melodrama
- Order vs. disorder
- Cruelty, lust and perversion
- Stereotype characters
- Theme of history and tradition
One of the things I particularly like about Southern Gothic is the humor which is particularly ironic, dark, and sometimes, even macabre. You don’t always get such ironic and dark humor in other types of Gothic literature. Humor and horror come together in Southern Gothic novels to form particularly dark comic moments of social turmoil.
In addition, Southern Gothic novels focus on grotesque themes. While they may include supernatural or Gothic elements, they mainly focus on damaged, even delusional, characters. Moreover, major settings in Southern Gothic novels are plantations, old decaying places, graveyards, etc. that are often symbolic of a “time gone by”.
Famous Southern Gothic Writers
Edgar Allan Poe was the first Southern Gothic writer to exploit the genre’s potential. Many of his best known poems and short stories, although not set in the south of the country, exhibit all Southern Gothic literature elements that would characterize the genre.
While Edgar Allan Poe is the fundamental figure of Southern Gothic literature, William Faulkner (1897-1962) is undisputedly the greatest. He is the master of Southern Gothic, and undoubtedly the most famous of all Southern Gothic writers. His fictional country of Yoknapatawpha was the scene of the bitter defeat of the South in the Civil War, where social, racial and economic ruptures were most extreme. Faulkner’s complex and modern language creates a deep strangeness in readers, who are lost in alienating their own characters. Due to his powerful writing, Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1949.
Generations of Southern Gothic writers after Faulkner continued to exploit the social, economic and cultural contradictions of the South. Southern Gothic writers like Flannery O’ Connor, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and others relied on the region’s problems to create the strangeness and underline the Gothic elements of that context.
Besides William Faulkner, another major Southern Gothic staple is Flannery O’ Connor. She is a leading voice in the Southern Gothic literary tradition of the 20th century. She wrote many terrifying stories that highlighted the humanity (or very upsetting lack thereof) in the world around her. Her writing unapologetically forced the reader to confront their own morals, ethics and human behavior through her very real and often very flawed characters. Other famous Southern Gothic writers include: Harper Lee, Harry Crews, Zora Neale Hurston, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Michael McDowell and others.
So if you want to read some of the best Southern Gothic novels, here’s where to start!
41 Best Southern Gothic Novels You Must Read
Southern Gothic novels have opened up a number of possibilities for understanding Gothic aesthetics in American literature, and served to fully realize their literature of more macabre content. Here are 41 best Southern Gothic novels you must read to fully appreciate the genre. They all are incredibly thought-provoking books in the Southern Gothic canon.
1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Definitely one of the greatest Southern Gothic novels ever written, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner is a must read. Though challenging, it is totally unforgettable. The book depicts the tragic story of the Compson family, fragmented and distressed by history and their own legacy. It’s a mixture of characters’ voices and explores intense, passionate family relationships devoid of love. Moreover, the saga is told in four narratives, all centered around the beautiful and selfish sister Caddy, and the downfall of this once esteemed Southern family.
Hailed as a classic, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is creative, beautiful, dynamic, and heart-wrenching. It is one of the pioneers in stream of consciousness narratives, which mimic the mixture and fluidity of human thinking.
2. Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo
A queer Southern Gothic novel, Summer Sons tells a sweltering horror tale about death, ghosts, and what happens when unfinished business can be dangerous. Andrew is trying to figure out what happened to his best friend and adopted brother Eddie during his final days.
Haunted by Eddie’s ghost, the grisly truth of what happened to him will turn Andrew’s life into a walking nightmare. It is a ghost story, but it is also a book about uncovering long kept secrets.
Every page of Summer Sons is chilling and leaves you on the edge because you have no idea when the next haunt is going to creep onto the page like a tormenting shadow. It’s a book with intense, dark Southern Gothic energy, and full of excitement and angst!
3. The Toll by Cherie Priest
The Toll is a Southern Gothic novel with a contemporary twist. It’s creepy, weird and an impressively unique read. The description of a lost town near the Okefenokee Swamp, witches, ghosts, mysterious disappearances, themes of loss and redemption, and a healthy dose of humor and fully-real characters made the book a wonderful read.
Moreover, the book is thought-provoking and leaves the reader with more questions than answers.
A Southern Gothic without much gore and splatter—The Toll horrifies in other ways. So if you want to spend some time in the swamp and experience some great eerie atmosphere, this is a perfect book for you!
4. The River has Teeth by Erica Waters
Erica Waters’ The River Has Teeth is a hauntingly beautiful book with a vivid Southern Gothic setting. The book is full of dark magic, creatures stalking in the shadows, and power derived from the earth as well as from trauma. It tells a story about two girls who come together while dealing with unique challenges. Erica’s writing is beautiful, atmospheric, and perfectly eerie. Girls have been going missing in the woods, when Natasha’s sister also disappears. To bring her sister home, she seeks the help of Della, a rumored local witch. But Della might know more about the mysterious disappearances than she wants to let on. Can the girls work together and find love in the process?
The River Has Teeth is a unique, atmospheric, and enchanting contemporary fantasy story with a mix of genres!
5. The House of Dust by Noah Broyles
A must-read for the fans of Southern Gothic novels, The House of Dust is dark, unusual and enjoyable. When Bradley Ellison, a crime writer, finds himself in the mysterious town of Three Summers, Tennessee, he is instantly drawn to its peculiarity. Something about the people and their behaviors catches his attention. And one house in particular compels Brad to dig deeper into the town’s history. What he uncovers is extremely dark than he ever imagined.
An enchanting book with captivating, disturbing and grotesque narrative. Broyles’ writing is beautiful and he has created a dark, complex and twisted tale.
6. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Wise Blood was the first novel of Flannery O’Connor, the queen of Southern Gothic literature. The book is a radical satire of America’s secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear. It’s a tale of judgement, false prophets, redemption, and wisdom. Wise Blood has an ability to be unlike anything we typically read. It is a story of one man fervently trying to run away from God but with each and every turn finds himself unable to do so. It’s a story of freedom and the various conflicting wills that such freedom entails and the tumultuous emotions that spring forth from trying to wrestle with these wills.
Steeped with layers and mystery, Wise Blood gives us one of the most consuming characters in modern fiction. The dark and haunting style, and endlessly fascinating character development make the book an amazing Southern Gothic read.
7. The Hamlet by William Faulkner
William Faulkner’s The Hamlet is a kind of sarcasm on the classic tragedy of Hamlet and also a thoughtful impact of pre-American civil war protests and the depth of its post-war and opening-era surprises. The book tells the story of Flem Snopes’ beginning in the country, how he gets himself established on the land and gradually, like some monstrous worm, consumes a small village until there is nothing left anymore. The book is an ironic take on classical tragedy with Faulkner’s humor, criticism of the antebellum South, and impeccable prose.
Faulkner has used a unique combination of shocking incident and wry humor to produce, in The Hamlet, one of the most arresting novels he has ever written. Initially a standalone novel, Faulkner’s book was later followed by ‘The Town’ and ‘The Mansion’, forming the ‘Snopes trilogy.’
8. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the classic Southern Gothic novels. It beautifully narrates a child’s view of prejudice and justice in Alabama during the Great Depression. The incorporation of the Gothic genre with other narrative elements is the most enjoyable aspect of the book. The themes in this novel are still very relevant today. The story is heartbreaking, but pertinent. An outstanding depiction of the struggles to maintain withering inheritances and legacies in the inexorable passage of time, and the need for change to deliver the best to the new generations.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a must-read book that has been challenged multiple time throughout the past century for its discussion of sexuality, rape, strong language, and use of derogatory terms.
9. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Carson McCullers’ debut novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is an established classic.
It takes place in the 1930s Southern American state and revolves around the lives of multiple characters, the central one being a deaf-mute named John Singer. McCullers’ novel skewers a country and its history. She is a ruthless examiner of her characters and parses them over to expose the foibles of everyday American life, and its inherent loneliness.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is heavily Southern Gothic and therefore very atmospheric. It’s hauntingly beautiful and one that sticks with you for a long time after reading it.
10. The Past Is Never: A Novel by Tiffany Quay Tyson
Set in the South, The Past Is Never is a story about a girl who goes swimming with her brother and sister in a cursed rock quarry, when her little sister vanishes. She spends the story searching for truth about her sister and about her family’s own past—which is full of secrets. The title of this book is part of William Faulkner’s famous quote:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
An appropriate title for a book about a girl burdened by the sins and secrets of her family’s past, with characters who are either running from their ancestors, or ignorant of their family’s secrets. The Past Is Never is dark, gritty, haunting, full of legends and mystery, and reflective of the problems that plague the South.
11. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor
An atmospheric and dark read, The Violent Bear It Away is Flannery O’Connor’s second and last Southern Gothic novel. It is a story of a boy named Tarwater who lived with his fanatically religious grand uncle on a farm, isolated from the world. After his grand uncle dies, he burns the farm and leaves. Still there are more challenges to face!
The Violent Bear It Away focuses on family, faith, rage and religious fanaticism. Tarwater is questioning everything his grand uncle taught him after hearing the other side of the story. It’s an existential tale about messed up characters struggling with their religious upbringings.
One of the best and most perplexing of Flannery O’Connor’s stories!
12. Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter
Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters explores the concepts of faith healing and deception while still inhabiting the Southern Gothic terrain of mystery and romance.
The book is a follow up on Burying The Honeysuckle Girls but could be read as a standalone. Told in two timelines, the story revolves around Eve and her grandmother Dove, who was a faith healer with a dark secret.
In present day Alabama, Eve is tasked with unravelling some of the murkier parts of Dove’s past, all while holding onto a family secret entrusted to her by Dove. A tense historical mystery revolving around religion, love and revenge. Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters is one of the must-read Southern Gothic novels indeed!
13. The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
A blend of Southern Gothic, terrifying whodunit and family epic, Young’s The Gates of Evangeline is a stunning debut novel.
The book focuses on Charlotte “Charlie” Cates who is a journalist grieving the loss of her young son. Suddenly she begins having dreams about children and realizes that they are in great trouble. She could help them if only she could figure out the clues that she is seeing. Her job and dreams lead her from New York to Louisiana where her dreams intensify. Then certain actions she takes put her life in real danger.
Unputdownable and atmospheric, this Southern Gothic mystery with so many twists and turns is definitely worth reading!
14. The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson
The Boatman’s Daughter is a dark Southern Gothic novel with fantastic characters and ultra-violent action, all with hallucinogenic, supernatural overtones.
The book is set deep in the bayous of Arkansas, where a lady called Miranda pays her bills by ferrying contraband back and forth to a mad preacher. There is a monster inspired by folk tales, a giant on a Harley, a dwarf drug dealer, and a one-eyed devil in the form of a bent police officer. All these rich characters jump out of the page and cudgel you round the head. But it’s the sultry, oppressive atmosphere that really brings the book to life.
The Boatman’s Daughter is a rare masterpiece that makes you gasp at the end of every chapter and shudder with emotion by the end.
15. A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews
Harry Crew’s A Feast of Snakes is terribly pitch-black in its stark descriptions of life in a small, messed-up Southern town. The book is a non-stop circus of racists, rapists, abusers, and sociopaths. Its prose sings and crackles all along, beautifully ringing even as it depicts some of the purest ugliness ever seen.
There is not much of a plot, so the narrative meanders around quite a bit. But when something does happen, it hits really hard. The book is wild, lurid, grotesque and psychedelic.
16. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
A chilling and taut Southern Gothic novel, Child of God is breathtaking to read. A violent dispossessed man is falsely accused of rape, sprung from prison, banished to the outskirts of the city and left to wreak havoc in 1960’s Appalachian Tennessee.
The book is grim, grotesque, darkly comic, meandering and explores social and moral values through extreme violence. It presents unformatted dialogue, poetic imagery of the American South, short ‘burst’ like chapters, told from either protagonist’s perspective or in small-town anecdotes. All this makes it feel realistic and compulsively readable, whilst at the same time ballad-like.
Above all, Child of God is a harrowing, haunting tale that cements McCarthy’s unique craft, distancing himself from Faulkner’s style.
17. The Casquette Girls #1 by Alys Arden
A deliciously creepy Southern Gothic vampire story, The Casquette Girls will take you to hurricane ravaged New Orleans. It focuses on a girl discovering her ancestral magic while getting mixed up in a mystery spanning centuries. With the city in shambles, Adele and her father, along with a handful of other residents, are slowly making their way back to the area, but the city has a long way to go. Almost immediately, things start getting extremely weird.
Magical, intricate, dark and eerie, the story involves renaissance vampires, voodoo queens, and colonial as well as native witchcraft. The Casquette Girls is extremely fantastic and filled with history of the magical city that never runs out of stories. A must-read that will literally take you on the most epic emotional rollercoaster ride!
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s Beloved is one of the best Southern Gothic novels. It is horrifying not only for its supernatural elements but also because it plumbs the depths of humanity’s worst impulses. The book revolves around Sethe, a former slave traumatized by her experience and the loss of her baby whom she killed to protect from advancing slavers. Her home is forever haunted by the ghost of that baby.
When a strange, otherworldly young woman appears on her footsteps, the very image of her dead daughter grows up. Thereon Sethe enters into a strangely parasitic relationship with the young woman. A perfect Southern Gothic book, Beloved is a must-read!
19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A beautiful exploration of the lives of African Americans in 1930s rural Georgia, and a startlingly honest depiction of familial and romantic bonds that help people survive when life continually beats them down. The Color Purple is a Pulitzer Prize Winner Southern Gothic novel. It tells a powerful and moving story of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, who are separated and transformed by cruel circumstances.
By depicting the lives of African American women in the early 20th century, The Color Purple celebrates their strength, determination, strong will and love. If you enjoy reading character driven stories, then you’re definitely going to love this one!
20. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Based on real events, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a true crime/creative nonfiction novel. It is the story of a gay hustler who is shot dead by a local member of Savannah’s upper crust. There’s a wild cast of characters who will make you wonder if any of it could possibly be real; people who live layered existences full of lies, half-truths, and incredibly incisive truths tossed off in the most casual manner you could ever imagine.
The deeper you venture, this book reveals it is about an entire world unto itself. A world that is repellent and seductive all at once. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is one of those Southern Gothic novels that can be read in a single sitting!
21. Twilight: A Novel by William Gay
An incredibly haunting and visceral, Twilight by William Gay is a must-read Sothern Gothic novel. It’s a story about a brother and sister who after suspicion of their father’s burial make a terrible discovery: the local undertaker has not been leaving the dead alone.
After opening up several graves and capturing some incriminating photographs, they now want to confront the undertaker. With the threat of his life’s work on the line, the undertaker hires help which comes in the form of an evil man called Sutter. Now the brother and sister must outrun Granville Sutter to bring the undertaker to justice.
What follows is an eerie adventure full of unimaginable twists and turns. Fans of Southern Gothic mystery will definitely enjoy Twilight!
22. Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
A unique take on the Southern Gothic genre, Boys of Alabama unfolds a stunning tale of witchcraft, religion and queerness. The book presents a nuanced portrayal of masculinity, faith, immigration, and the adolescent pressures that require total conformity. The story follows Max, a sensitive German teenager, as his family moves to a small town Alabama. Dropped into this new world, he integrates himself into the football scene while, at the same time, coming to terms with his sexuality and grieving a best friend he left behind. Max also discovers a strange power but doesn’t want anyone to know.
Written in verdant and visceral prose, Boys of Alabama explores heavy themes, and the supernatural. It also presents lush descriptions of the natural beauty of rural Alabama.
23. Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale
Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale is an engrossing and adventitious tale of a lost town and the dark secrets. The book begins as a strong coming of age tale about a boy named Daniel who is orphaned suddenly and traumatically. Then it transforms into his adult life experience as he travels back to the small town he grew up in. Of course, the small town is full of shady people, secrets and lies.
Lansdale has whipped up a great suspenseful yarn with his trademark flair for social commentary with splashes of humor. His characters draw you right into the story, the setting holds you there, the clues and eerie hints of dire deeds keep you searching as the story unfolds.
Lansdale’s Moon Lake is a page turner with amazingly brilliant story!
24. The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones is a creepy and often trippy Southern Gothic tale of a young woman tasked with clearing out the hoarder house of her late grandmother. While doing the job she discovers long-hidden secrets about a strange colony of beings in the woods. Then begins a series of weird happenings.
The book has a uniquely dark style with elements of horror and fun. Instead of a haunted house story, it’s a faerie tale twisted with local lore and told by a fantastic narrator and her faithful coonhound companion.
Bizarre and creepy, The Twisted Ones is definitely worth reading for fans of non-horror Southern Gothic novels.
25. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
A magnificent book, Sing, Unburied, Sing explores how past traumas in the South as a Black and biracial family heavily impact current day decisions and circumstances. The story follows a biracial family’s journey through the Deep South to pick up their father from prison.
There is a mix of family adventure and dim stories about apparitions with a heartbreaking glimpse into the historical and modern prison system. The author has made her characters approachable and forced the readers to care for them.
Sing, Unburied, Sing a whole package of family saga, grief, biracial couple and kids, atrocities against the black people, drugs, abuse, betrayal and failures. A powerful book having all Southern Gothic elements!
26. The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
A Southern Gothic historical fiction, The Heavenly Table is tragic, bleak, dark, dismal, and full of despair. Pollock recounts the lives of three brothers who abandon their miserable existence of workers in the service of an exploitative and bloodthirsty landowner, and jump on an adventure as villains on horseback robbing some banks and living lives that until then were unattainable.
The Heavenly Table moves in the territory of McCarthy, Faulkner and O’Connor, blending satire with healthy doses of cinematic violence in the purest style of Peckinpah, Trantino or The Cohen.
Moreover, the short chapters laced with Pollock’s signature dark humor made this book an enjoyable read.
27. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Swamplandia! is the story of a family living in isolation in the swampy Florida Everglades, who run an alligator-wrestling theme park. Struggling to stay afloat and maintain their dignity, the family is on the brink of falling apart. Having recently lost their mother—and the park’s main attraction—the three teenagers work through their grief in different and sometimes strange ways. When their father disappears, they take up their own separate adventures out of desperation and the need for love and attention, from anywhere or anyone.
In true Karen Russell style, Swamplandia! plays with form and style. At once a poignant Southern Gothic tale of a broken family and a fantastical epic, the book is about how we try, and fail, to make it in the world. It is honest, enchanting, devastating, and coercive, having lots of gators and ghosts.
28. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
One of the most famous Southern Gothic novels, As I Lay Dying revolves around an impoverished family in Mississippi and their singular mission to bury a coffin. It’s about a father and his five children, embarking on an odyssey across the countryside to fulfil their mother’s wish of being buried in her hometown, Jefferson. This is not merely one story about a family travelling with a corpse, but many stories. In fact, Faulkner’s novel encapsulates, in all sense, what human life truly is.
As I Lay Dying is dark, grotesque, and metaphysical. Moreover, Faulkner has splendidly used the stream of consciousness and interior monologue technique. Ancient secrets, wild emotions and implicit carnal tendencies unfold as this queer family proceeds to an obscure finality. A must-read Southern Gothic masterpiece!
29. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers
Considered by many as McCullers’ best work, The Ballad of the Sad Café is a Southern Gothic novella that captures all the components of this genre at once. It’s the story of Miss Amelia, a quirkily scary woman who is as hard as rock from within, but ends up melting for the most unexpected person ever.
A stunning sad tale, the book depicts betrayal, disappointment and despair in an atmosphere that grows in oppression. McCullers has achieved a complex and delicate mix of real and legendary things in this book. A strange love triangle, the happenings of a small town —all this is hauntingly told and brilliantly paced.
The Ballad of the Sad Café is a Southern Gothic masterpiece absolutely worth reading!
30. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
A deeply challenging and downright overwhelming narrative, Absalom, Absalom! is epic, intense, horrid and emotional. This Southern Gothic novel unfolds a tale of racist Southern Americans during the 19th century. It revolves around three families and how their lives were ruined by the evilness of one person, the patriarch Thomas Supten.
The book is a tragic account of events narrated from various perspectives and through different historical moments. The characters involved in building this account are victims, eyewitnesses or heirs of the terrible consequences of a proceeding marked by ambition, selfishness and despotic pride. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner takes us to explore timeless mysteries of the historical discourse of humanity that we understand best when we see them projected, with masterful beauty and lucidity, in masterpieces of literary art.
31. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Both a feminist and an anti-racist classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a triumphant story of Janie Crawford who shares her journey of rediscovering her voice as woman of color during the Harlem Renaissance.
Janie suffers abuse in the hands of her various husbands, is silenced many times, but through all this, she learns to grow. The writing is beautiful, powerful and full of symbolism. Hurston’s prose is poetic and filled with rich metaphors. The inclusion of Southern dialect in the dialogue makes it sometimes a bit difficult to read, but it certainly adds depth to the novel.
A stunning, timeless and beautiful Southern Black feminist story, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a staple of the genre.
32. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Set in rural South Carolina, Bastard Out of Carolina is Dorothy Allison’s fictionalized memoir loosely based on her own experiences dealing with both sexual and physical abuse whilst growing up in a poverty-stricken household.
The book is gritty, unflinchingly honest, and full of intense vivid imagery. It examines the complexities of mother-child relationships, conditions of class, race and sexuality. Allison’s prose is so exacting, her tone frank.
Though painful to read at times, Bastard Out of Carolina is a great piece of writing and recommended to anyone who is in the headspace to read something intense. One of the must-read Southern Gothic novels!
33. The Elementals by Michael McDowell
An atmospheric Southern Gothic horror, The Elementals tells the story of the Savages, the McCrays, and their trio of Victorian beach houses at Beldame, which are haunted by shapeless creatures that may have been responsible for several mysterious deaths years before. The characters practically leap off the page and you can feel the heat of the sizzling Alabama summer. As with lots of horror, things become slightly less frightening as the story progresses but there are some truly spine tingling moments. Moreover, the characters are all uniquely drawn and vibrant.
The southern atmosphere, the boiling heat and isolated beach in The Elementals build a perfect setting for a truly gripping and scary read. Michael McDowell is definitely an author you’ll be reading more!
34. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Drawing deliberately on the whole Southern Gothic tradition, The little Friend is clever not just in what it reveals but what it doesn’t reveal. Harriet Dufresne’s life hasn’t been the same since the tragic death of her older brother Robin.
The family live under the shadow of his unresolved death, and at 12 Harriet finally decides to find her brother’s murderer but soon becomes entangled in a dark and dangerous game. Do not expect it merely a murder mystery, it is a lot more than that—it’s more of a comment on life and how death effects people.
Tartt’s writing is simply beautiful, revealing the depths in which grief affects the characters’ lives. She doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy themes such as drugs, revenge, religion, and race. And she does it all in The little Friend so elegantly!
35. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
This saga of a powerful southern white family depicts a scathing insight into the hypocrisy of racism. Set in rural Alabama, The Keepers of the House spans seven generations of the Howland family, but focuses primarily on its narrator, Abigail Howland, and her grandfather William. A strong metaphor for the long-established families of the Deep South, the book explores their encounter with changing values and norms, as well as deep-seated racism. Though the book draws on traditional Southern Gothic themes, it’s not a ghost story.
Instead, The Keepers of the House is a powerful, layered, slow-burn, and beautifully written story about family secrets, racism, and rage. Blending historical facts and evocative prose, Grau instructs without being didactic and keeps the reader riveted until the end. This winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1965 is worth reading and discussing!
36. Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler is one the greatest writers to use themes of racism and gender politics in the scope of the Gothic horror genre. Her book Fledgling tells the story of a vampire-like creature named Shori.
An amnesiac and genetically modified, Shori is a young half-human/vampire whose dark skin allows her to walk in daylight. She wakes up, inches from death, in a cave with no sense of who or what she is. As the story progresses the world around her expands and she gains an understanding of her family and the community she’s part of—while also building a new family of her own.
Fledgling is a tale of loss, racism and the women’s struggle to be in control. Must read it, there is much more than a usual vampire story!
37. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
After returning from a stint in a psych ward, Camille Preaker, a mediocre journalist, gets a heavy assignment. She must go back to the place that put her in the psych ward; her hometown Wind Gap to cover the murder of two girls. She has rarely spoken to her mother or any other family member since she has left the city but now she finds herself back in her childhood bedroom trying to figure out the puzzle of her past as well as what happened to these girls. Are they all connected somehow?
Flynn’s writing style is extremely engaging. The story of Sharp Objects will keep you going until the end and give you real chills at times!
38. The Essence of Nathan Biddle by J. William Lewis
William Lewis’ Southern Gothic novel, The Essence of Nathan Biddle is a bildungsroman story, full of literary and philosophical references, leaning heavily on religious allusions. Set in 1950s Alabama, the book gives a real taste of American life in the South at that time. It’s a tale of existential angst told by 18-year-old Kit Biddle, an anti-Gumpian southern boy struggling with the complexities of life.
The story is mostly relationship-driven; the colorful characters in the protagonist’s life include girlfriends, current and ex; teachers and coaches; friends and family, including the uncle referenced in the title.
The Essence of Nathan Biddle is engrossing, powerful, desperate, and deliciously haunting. A must-read for the fans of coming of age Southern Gothic novels!
39. When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
When the Reckoning Comes is hailed as a Southern Gothic ghost/horror story with parallels to Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching. The book follows a Black woman who returns to her hometown in the South (a previously segregated town) to attend a friend’s wedding. But along the way she encounters some soul-stirring history about the town’s past involving slavery life and the violence that once occurred.
A hauntingly amazing novel, When the Reckoning Comes explores the old South and its racist history. This is a good book to pick up when you’re in the right mood for a heavier read. In fact, it’s a fast-paced page turner that will make you squirm with discomfort!
40. The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel
Extremely intense and dark Southern Gothic, The Familiar Dark is a kind of story that drops you right into the action. It follows Eve Taggert, a single mother in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks. When her daughter is brutally murdered, she’s determined to find out who did it. But to do this, she must face her past and her own mother, whose lessons Eve tried not to pass on to her daughter.
The book is deliciously dark and gritty, featuring a modern take on the Southern Gothic genre. Instead of gasp-worthy plot twists, The Familiar Dark pays more attention to the history and tensions between its characters, making it a probing and revealing examination of the complicated relationship between mother and daughter and family dynamics.
41. A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli
A Choir of Ill Children is not a typical horror book. It’s rather a deranged tale in the Southern Gothic style. It’s more of a Backwater Swamp, deep south, noir detective novel with some weird dark horror elements. This dark and strange story is written so well and filled with vivid metaphors and compelling detail.
The story centers around a young man named Thomas who has inherited an empire from a family that is full of secrets. He lives with his brothers, conjoined triplets that can only form sentences by each head saying one word at a time. Thus, the choir of ill children.
If you are looking for a book that is unique, dark and atmospheric with a storyline to puzzle over, A Choir of Ill Children is a must-read!
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