The team behind cult podcast S-Town cited Stoner as one of the two books that influenced their storytelling. If you’re as obsessed with it as we are, here are five dark, gritty, Southern American books to read next
William Faulkner is the founding father of American Southern Gothic; his heartbreaking views of life in fictional Yoknapatawpha County are depicted with stunning detail. Faulkner’s towns burst with the rage of Civil War defeat and slave revolt and his characters cry the tears of a misbegotten people struggling to make sense of a world that has moved on without them, where family and personal traditions are replaced by strife and confusion.
The bestselling classic is the life story of William Stoner, who enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father’s farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured – so much so that the team behind S-Town told the Guardian that they had the book in their minds while producing the podcast.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Styron’s novel is set in 1831. Nat Turner awaits death in a Virginia jail cell. He is a slave, a preacher, and the leader of the only effective slave revolt in the history of ‘that peculiar institution’. William Styron’s ambitious and stunningly accomplished novel is Turner’s confession, made to his jailers under the duress of his God.
Donald Ray Pollock has been compared to Flannery O’Connor and the Coen Brothers. The Heavenly Table is a blistering novel in which three impoverished brothers accidentally embark on a murderous bank-robbing spree. It’s gritty, electrifying and weirdly funny. If you like the characters in S-Town then you’ll devour The Heavenly Table.