Saturday, 3 October 2015

Little Sister Death by William Gay Review


Set in the early ‘80s, David Binder is a novelist stuck for inspiration for a follow-up to his well-received first book. He decides to explore an old interest of his and write a haunted house story. Of course, he can’t just write about a haunted house in his regular house because he seemingly has no imagination. So he moves into a haunted house in the south with his family in order to write his novel. Some things go bump in the night and eventually it ends. 

Posthumously published following William Gay’s passing in 2012, Little Sister Death is unfortunately a bit of a crap horror novella. In terms of the subject matter and Gay’s approach, it’s an uneasy hybrid of Stephen King’s The Shining by way of Cormac McCarthy’s writing style, and Gay falls far short of both writers.

The story itself is very poor. There are some flashback chapters set in the past where we see bad things happening and then the narrative jumps back to the present where Binder sits about ponderin’ things, southern-style. Lots of good ole boys drawlin’ bout this’n’that fills up a lot of the book before we get into the amateur night theatrics of the “horror” - a girl sat on a gravestone (or did he imagine it?!!) followed by slamming doors and strange sounds. Weak sauce, Mr Gay. 

None of the characters were especially interesting. Binder was the only one you could say was well-written and he was a pillock. A pretentious wanker thinking up writerly sentences that’ll win awards rather than write anything worthwhile. That’s basically the lot of the literary writer: they can’t tell a good story so they tell a crap one and obfuscate it with lofty prose. And dragging his family into his crap? What a jerk. The other characters are just sort of there - props essentially. 

You couldn’t really call this a horror story as so much of it is focused on ordinary people living in the south. And that ending was simply pathetic. The narrative was already dawdling along for most of the book but to end it there? It was like Gay just didn’t feel like writing anymore. Rubbish. 

The essay at the end about the Bell Witch is sort of interesting as is the intro by Tom Franklin who reminisces about William Gay, and generally it was well-written. But Little Sister Death is a pretty awful addition to the canon of southern gothic/the haunted house subgenre. If you want to read a good haunted house story this Halloween, check out Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Stephen King’s The Shining instead.

Little Sister Death

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