Tuesday, February 10, 2009

William Gay, "Twilight" (2006).

I put off reading William Gay's Twilight for months after I found it on the shelves of a used book store. I had already been through his first two novels over the past twelve months, and I didn't want to run out of his works too quickly. Gay is an older man at 65, and I'm not sure how many more novels he has in him. I like the idea of setting one by for a rainy day. On the other hand, I've become accustomed to thinking about this author as one of my favorites, and I feel some obligation to complete my reading of his output in its entirety. Now I have just one collection of short stories to go, and then I'll have to wait for the publication of his work-in-progress, which is apparently titled The Lost Country.

Unlike Gay's previous two novels (Provinces of Night and The Long Home), Twilight is almost devoid of humor. It concerns a macabre discovery unearthed by siblings Kenneth and Corrie Tyler. Apparently the local undertaker (Fenton Breece) is kinkier than his job should allow. Gay doesn't necessarily linger over the details of Breece's perversions (at least not at first), but the reader is meant to understand that this creep has overstepped the lines of criminal decency. The Tylers are alerted to his activities because they have recently lost their bootlegging father and they have espied Breece removing a precious article from his grave. Upon further investigation, they realize that the man is up to no good.

While one might be tempted to immediately blow the whistle on such a ghoul, sister Corrie see these circumstances as an opportunity for her and Kenneth to escape the poverty of their life, and get out of town. She would like to blackmail Breece, but needs proof of his wrongdoing. This comes in the form of polaroid shots of the undertaker abusing dead bodies in his workshop. Despite her brother's hesitancy, Corrie approaches Breece and demands fifteen thousand dollars for the return of the photos. Now Fenton Breece is a bit of a pampered aristocrat, but he doesn't relish being extorted by a teen-aged girl (especially one that he has lusted after in the past). So he hires the meanest cuss in town to get the photographs back.

Granville Sutter is a bad, bad dude from rotten stock. It's no secret that townspeople fear him, and Kenneth Tyler would like to give him a wide berth. Unfortunately Sutter has targeted the young man as the weak link, and believes that the threat of violence against the siblings will compel them to give up the game. Sutter doesn't necessarily approve of what Breece has been up to, nor does he really want to know any of the gory details. He just wants what's coming to him when he delivers the goods to Breece. And he's bound to employ any means to accomplish his mission. Not surprisingly, things turn ugly for the Tylers. Soon enough Kenneth finds himself on the lam, pursued by the maniacal Sutter.

Much of Twilight takes place in a vast tract of overgrown wilderness called the Harrikan. It is in this haunted terrain that Sutter attempts to overcome Kenneth Tyler, and the boy in turn encounters some truly archetypal Southern Gothic figures. Gay is able to make the Harrikan come alive with his efficient yet evocative description of flora and fauna. Interspersed within the woods are the abandoned detritutus of coal and other industrial operations that accentuate the sense that the characters are passing through a forbidden "no man's land". A feeling of impending doom accompanies the text, so that the reader is not sure what might happen next, but remains continuously aware that the possibilities are virtually endless.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Good review of the story line, but I didn't get the sense of a recommendation to read (or not read)...perhaps I read it too quickly. Worthwhile to pick up?

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is definitely off topic, other than being about an author and a book. Have you read any Herbert Gold? I'm currently reading his latest, a non-fiction piece "Still Alive, A Temporary Condition". Writing for more than 50 years, he's considered a documenter of the SF Beat Generation.

I find it interesting that his brother, who aspired to write a single novel, lived a beat-style single life in Cleveland, and was a friend of R. Crumb and immortalized in one of his strips.

I'm sure I will look for one his works of fiction, perhaps "Father".

8:01 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Anything by William Gay is worth reading. This one was merely "very good", rather than GREAT. Have a look at my other posts about Gay's works (which I linked to in my post) and see which one appeals to you.

If you have the Herbert Gold book you mentioned, pass it along at some point... it sounds interesting.

8:29 PM  

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