I’ve not yet read my copy of “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s long-lost, recently-discovered-under-murky-circumstances first novel. I will read it, and soon, but I have to admit, I’m afraid it will disappoint.
You might feel the same way, especially if you’ve read reviews that mention a bigoted and racist Atticus Finch.
So here, to make us all feel better, are 10 great Southern novels (and story collections) that will not disappoint.
Go fetch yourself a mint julep and take a seat over there on the porch swing, under that magnolia tree. You have a lot of reading to do.
“Their Eyes Were Watching God,” by Zora Neale Hurston. Set in Florida, this is the story of Janie Crawford, who grows from a young girl to a strong, independent woman, marrying three very different men along the way.
“A Summons to Memphis,” by Peter Taylor. A man is called back to Memphis from his home in New York by his sisters, who want him to stop their elderly father from remarrying. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories,” by Flannery O’Connor. Southern Gothic at its finest. Troubling stories by the great O’Connor. Cats and hats and grandmothers and Catholicism.
Pretty much anything by William Faulkner. Good luck! Any one of his complex and sometimes confusing novels will keep you busy for the rest of the summer. (But they are worth it.)
“On Agate Hill,” by Lee Smith. Perhaps the darkest novel by North Carolina writer Smith, “On Agate Hill” concentrates on the difficult Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
“Save Me the Waltz,” by Zelda Fitzgerald. The autobiographical, glittering novel about Southern belle Alabama Beggs, who marries a Yankee, who shows her the world but makes her unhappy. (My favorite line: “War! There’s going to be a war!’ she thought. … ‘Then the dance ought to be good tonight.’ ”)
“The Known World,” by Edward P. Jones. Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about blacks owning black slaves in the antebellum South.
“Tobacco Road,” by Erskine Caldwell. The most miserable of all Southern novels, but a classic, “Tobacco Road” is the story of the Lester family, white tenant farmers in rural Georgia during the Great Depression.
“All the King’s Men,” by Robert Penn Warren. Political corruption and intrigue during the Great Depression. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the movie version won an Academy Award for best picture.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. Of course.
And who knows? Maybe at some point we can add its companion book to this list.