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Little Sister Death by William Gay

Little Sister Death (2015)

by William Gay

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One minute I liked this, the next I didn't. There are a few excellent moments of menace which then melt away. It would be far easier to read if there were a few quotation marks here and there as often it isn't clear whether a conversation is taking place or just thoughts in someone's head. All in all this book was very disappointing with one of the worst endings I've seen in a while, mainly because the book itself wasn't finished by the author. It didn't live up to the description at all. ( )
  boudicca123 | Dec 29, 2015 |
When I joined the Southern Literary Trail reading group a few months ago I started hearing a lot of talk about an author named William Gay whose books were regularly discussed alongside those of Southern gothic masters as Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. I was embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of someone who belonged in such august company until I found out a little more about him. Gay, who died in 2012 at age 70, wrote regularly from age 15 but never published a word of it until he was almost 60. From 1999 until his death the former carpenter and housepainter published six critically acclaimed books including The Long Home and Twilight (not the sparkly one). Now, three years after his death, a new book has been published, "compiled and transcribed from [Gay's] handwritten notebooks and a typescript discovered among his papers".

Little Sister Death is a great blend of Southern gothic and horror that draws much of its strength from early American folklore and popular superstitions. David Binder, a young author researching a new book, moves with his pregnant wife and daughter to and old Tennessee farm once owned by the famous Beale Witch (nudge, wink). In a story that alternates from the past to the present, telling of past crimes and hauntings, then moving forward in time to Binder and his increased obsession with a dark story that spans the centuries and now threatens to destroy yet another family. Joy’s telling shows flashes of brilliance and positively drips dread with every paragraph. Being a lover of folklore and mythology, I particularly loved the mysterious black dog that appeared off and on throughout the story. Black dogs are historically considered a harbinger of death and seldom bode well for those who see one.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, due to William Gay’s own meeting with the black dog, the story lacks a conclusion. The story that Gay’s publisher cobbled together from his notes doesn’t so much end as it just stops. When a story sinks its hook this deeply and then fails to deliver, well, it’s kind of like sex without the satisfaction. It leaves one mighty grumpy.

That said. I am still very impressed with William Joy’s talent but am less than satisfied with this particular book. I suggest readers try one of the books mentioned above rather than this one or any other books published posthumously.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire. ( )
  Unkletom | Nov 1, 2015 |
Little Sister Death – A Ghostly Enterprise

Like others before me, I was confused by the end, but I am not angry about that, because to me that is the great thing about this ghost story. This is a lost novel from William Gay that his friends and his executor have put together from left manuscripts. Gay’s strong narrative that was present in his previous books is still present.

This book is a ghost story rather than a sweeping gothic novel that retells the Tennessee Bell Witch Haunting that is said to have taken place sometime in the nineteenth century. This story is told through the unravelling of author David Binder and his family, who has moved to the Beal Homestead as he hopes to find inspiration for a new novel.

The reader is bounced all over the years and in no particular order, so it seems, but it does come together after a fashion towards the end. We follow the families that had previously inhabited the Beale homestead so we bounce across the years 1785, 1933, 1956-1965, 1980 and 1982 so we get the haunting of those families.

This maybe one of the shortest William Gay books but you certainly have to work at it to get a grip of the overarching story. Little Sister Death gives us a ride around while I enjoyed the ghost side of the story but with so many characters involved it can become confusing. Saying that I certainly enjoyed the book. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | Oct 19, 2015 |
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