From the nexus where Southern writing meets gothic, Gay’s (Time Done Been Won't Be No More, 2010, etc.) posthumous novel is a reimagining of a 19th-century Tennessee Hill Country legend.
It's the early 1980s, and David Binder, a Tennessee boy living in Chicago, has been scrabbling along with factory jobs to support his wife and baby while working on a novel. A publisher buys the book, but its success is more literary than commercial. Next comes writer’s block. David's agent suggests genre fiction: "Write something we can sell to the paperback house. Write a horror novel." Seeking inspiration, he stumbles upon The Beale Haunting, a 19th-century Tennessee ghost story. What follows is a mixture of Flannery O’Connor and Stephen King as David heads south, wife and daughter in tow, and learns that the isolated Beale house still stands. He takes a six-month lease. The narrative moves back and forth in time, and Gay’s gut-wrenching opening pages, in which a doctor is kidnapped to tend a birth at the Beale house circa 1785, are written in the fire and blood of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. David grows ever more obsessive as he taps into "a dark malignancy in the bowels of the house." Gay paints with words—"The moonshine was black and silver, blurred from hours of darkness like an ink sketch left in the rain"—and draws scenes radiating a hard-earned vision of rural Southern life, like a whittler with "soft, curling shavings mounding delicately in the lap of his overalls" or a sharecropper who finds himself "lawed off" the land he's been working after a fight with his landlord. As apparitions appear, Gay’s story weaves connections between past and present; soon Binder forgets his book and becomes obsessed with the dark mystery nestled in "some foreign province of the heart."
More poetic than horrific, this novel is a contemplation of place and people, belief and culture—as if Faulkner had written The Shining.