Grit Lit: A Rough South Reader collects short stories from the past 30 years or so in the sub-genre the collection calls “Rough South.” These are stories set in the South among mostly blue-collar families or the rural underclass, folks with a tendency towards drink, violence, and short-term employment. The authors are the heirs of Faulkner and generally come from a poor, rural background themselves.
The book was something of an eye-opener for me. My own stories and novels tend to be set in the South, with a lot of the types of characters as found here. Although generally, I work in YA and have a somewhat less bleak worldview that most of these stories. I guess I must have had the sense there were others working in this area, hence my seeking the book out, but I had little concrete idea of what exactly such a collection would entail.
There is not a weak story among the bunch, and a number of them will stay with me a long time:
Tim McLaurin’s hero, Bubble, decides to drink all the wine in the world in The Acorn Plan after his nephew cuts a soldier up while drunk. At best, this will leave nothing left for his nephew to drink, but more realistically, he wants his nephew to get a good close-up look at where his path is taking him, even if it means his own dissolution.
Wylie Greer is a new father is Will Allison’s Atlas Towing, and not real confident he will be a better father than his own drunk and mostly-absent old man. But when a casual buddy of his accidentally kills his own newborn, Wylie reassesses what he might have to offer his family.
In Jim Gautreux’s Sorry Blood an alcoholic loser kidnaps a senile old man from the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, intending to force him into physical labor at his house for a few days. But the loser learns even an apparently vulnerable old man has hidden strengths.
These three were some of my personal favorites, but honestly, you could pick up this book and flip to a random page and wherever you land it will be well-worth your time to read. Every single story offers a mini-seminar in how to write a meaningful, moving short story.