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Twilight: A Novelby William Gay
Synopses & Reviews
A Southern gothic novel about an undertaker who won't let the dead rest.
Suspecting that something is amiss with their father's burial, teenager Kenneth Tyler and his sister Corrie venture to his gravesite and make a horrific discovery: their father, a whiskey bootlegger, was not actually buried in the casket they bought for him. Worse, they learn that the undertaker, Fenton Breece, has been grotesquely manipulating the dead.
Armed with incriminating photographs, Tyler becomes obsessed with bringing the perverse undertaker to justice. But first, he must outrun Granville Sutter, a local strongman and convicted murderer hired by Fenton to destroy the evidence. What follows is an adventure through the Harrikin, an eerie backwoods filled with tangled roads, rusted machinery, and eccentric squatters — old men, witches, and families among them — who both shield and imperil Tyler as he runs for safety.
With his poetic, haunting prose, William Gay rewrites the rules of the gothic fairy tale while exploring the classic Southern themes of good and evil.
"Teenage siblings Corrie and Kenneth Tyler suspect they've been ripped off by the town undertaker, but what they discover in Gay's resplendently dark third novel is much more sinister than either imagined. After their bootlegger father is buried in smalltown 1951 Tennessee, Kenneth sees undertaker Fenton Breece remove an item from the grave. The siblings dig up their father's grave, among others, and uncover unsettling evidence of Fenton's necrophilia. Corrie cooks up a blackmail plot and enlists Kenneth to steal Fenton's briefcase, which contains, as Kenneth and Corrie soon find out, photos depicting Fenton 'capering gleefully' with corpses. Blackmail material in hand, Corrie demands $15,000 from Fenton, and Fenton hires local psychopath Granville Sutter to muzzle — by whatever means necessary — the Tylers and get back the photos. A violent run-in with Sutter ends with Corrie's death, and Kenneth runs off to the Harrikin, a remote rural area inhabited by the eccentric and the creepy, leaving Fenton to cavort with Corrie's corpse. Gay (The Long Home) fills the book with haunting imagery and shocking, morbid and (surprisingly) hopeful turns as twisted justice gets meted out. Language lovers who are not faint of heart won't want to miss this one." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Corrie and Kenneth Tyler find their worst suspicions confirmed when they dig up the corpse of their bootlegger father. They're hoping to prove that undertaker Fenton Breece cheated them out of an $800 steel vault. But the real story is what else they discover: a grisly pattern of mutilated corpses. In one coffin, 'an old woman shared her resting place with a young man who'd had his throat straightrazored,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and he lay humped athwart her thighs as they lay arm in arm in eternal debauchery.' While such discoveries might mark a lesser book's grim denouement — the horrible truth finally revealed — William Gay's twisted and tantalizing third novel successfully torques screws already tight from the start. Stolen photographs reveal further atrocities; the siblings decide to blackmail the undertaker; and Breece in turn enlists the aid of Granville Sutter, a remorseless killer, to retrieve the damning evidence. Then things take a bad turn. 'Twilight' is almost textbook Southern Gothic, with its elements of the grotesque and perverse, its psychological extremes and its fixations on violence and sex. Gay successfully uses this form's ability to unsettle readers, forcing them to see anew darker aspects of humanity. When Breece positions an adored corpse for an afternoon of listening to radio shows, for example, the bleak mimicry of domesticity may leave readers unsure whether to chuckle or flinch. But perhaps more interesting are Gay's other structural and stylistic choices. Previewing the full story in an italicized flash-forward at the novel's opening, he defuses conventional tactics of suspense but successfully refocuses readers' attentions on greater concerns, especially later, when violence forces the Tyler boy to flee into a wasteland, 'eerie and strange, all black shadow and silver light.' The narrative slows to ruminate on such themes as corrupted innocence, the reckless randomness of life and the inevitable, eternal nature of death — all part of the book's deterministic bent toward 'vindictive fate.' Gay's daring flirtation with myth, fairy tale and fable serves similar purposes. At one point, Sutter is likened to 'some baleful god remonstrating with a world he'd created that would not do his bidding.' Elsewhere, he dons a grandmother's outfit — a big bad wolf licking his lips as he awaits his prey. By alluding to such forms even as he mixes menace and levity, Gay suggests some crucial revelation — or perhaps dark divination — about the pervasive nature of evil. By 'Twilight's' close, this netherworld struggle offers little in the way of resolution or redemption — only respite beside a much longer road ahead. And no moral closes this dark fable, except maybe this: There's a meanness in the world, and maybe in ourselves, and we'd better watch out for both. Art Taylor is an assistant professor of English at George Mason University and a contributing editor to Metro Magazine in Raleigh, N.C." Reviewed by Art Taylor, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Gay seems incapable of writing a dull sentence, and Twilight is further redeemed by his brilliant gift for dialogue, his occasional dark humor, and his utterly convincing portrayal of the reality of ruination and of evil." Booklist
"Gay knows full well what he's doing, pulling readers into a small-town Southern nightmare so intense it verges on the surreal....Gay leavens his grim story with occasional touches of gallows humor. But that does nothing to diminish the brutal beauty of this novel..." Seattle Times
"Twilight is full of beautiful prose....
About the Author
William Gay lives in Hohenwald, Tennessee. He is the author of the novels The Long Home and Provinces of Night, and the short story collection I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down.
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