5 Great works of Southern Fiction

Southern Literature

I love reading fiction, especially novels set in the South. Whether reading them or listening to them, their stories nearly always take me home. Here are five of my favorites.

Walking Across Egypt, 1988, Clyde Edgerton

I had the privilege of taking Dr. Edgerton’s class at Campbell University shortly before he published this book. Since then, I’ve had occasion to see him a time or two and always appreciate his humor and clever turns of phrase. His novels reflect his winsome nature and Southern roots.

Southern Fiction

Walking Across Egypt is positively delightful. Mattie Rigsbee, a 78 year old with chores to attend, winds up with a stray dog sniffing around her front door and a juvenile delinquent hanging around for a slice of her homemade poundcake. The adventures that follow highlight the importance and the stressors of the family born to us; and the value of widening the branches of our family tree to shelter others. I’ve read my signed copy multiple times and find it, like Mattie Rigsbee, offers fresh wisdom with each interaction.

A Gracious Plenty, 1997, Sheri Reynolds

Oh how I love this beautiful nugget!

Side note: I rarely loan out books. Don’t judge! I use them and like to keep them close by. I do regularly buy books for people who want to borrow them, so don’t be too hard on me. Anyway, I loaned this one to someone years ago and haven’t seen it since, proving my point. I just repurchased it from my favorite online used bookstore: betterworldbooks.com, so it will soon be back on my shelf.

A Gracious Plenty is set in a graveyard dutifully maintained by Finch Nobles. Finch was badly burned as a child and as a result she is disfigured by skin grafts and scarring. Consequently, she was bullied and ostracized as a child. Now grown, Finch finds refuge in the town graveyard on her property; she builds (supernatural) community there too. Perhaps because the noises created by human connection are absent, Finch hears the voices of those buried in the graveyard. She overhears their stories and their secrets, getting to know them after death in ways she couldn’t know them during their lives.

It sounds macabre, I know, but Reynolds writing is so exquisite that what should be hideous becomes positively gorgeous, just like Finch herself. Do yourself a favor and delve into this one-of-a-kind truth-telling novel. You won’t regret it.

Where the Heart Is, 1998, Billie Letts

Made into a movie of the same name, this 1998 delight will grab your attention from the first sentence. It begins with, “Novalee Nation, seventeen, seven months pregnant, thirty-seven pounds overweight–and superstitious about sevens–shifted uncomfortably in the seat of the old Plymouth and ran her hands down the curve of her belly.” At the end of the first chapter, Novalee is checking out of Wal-Mart when the cashier gives her the change: $7.77, which she hurls to the floor, knowing things are about to get worse–way worse.

The people she encounters, the ones who form her new family and the ones who skirt along the periphery of her life, will lodge in your thoughts long after the book comes to a close. You’ll learn unintentionally about the effects of poverty, trauma, and isolation. But mostly, you’ll fall in love with a girl named Novalee Nation, a baby named Americus, and an unlikely hero named Forney.

With unique characters and unusual circumstances, it’s no wonder this one made it to the big screen. Already seen the movie? Read the book too. It’s totally worth it.

Secret Life of Bees, 2003, Sue Monk Kidd

Set in the South in the 1960s, this novel delivers the racial tension you would expect from that time period. But this is not just a novel about racism and injustice, though it certainly includes that. It’s a story of found family, hidden truths, and of coming of age–no matter how old you are.

Lily Owens lost her biological mother when she was too young to remember the details. So, she’s not about to lose her stand-in Black mom, Rosaleen, to the vicious racists who threaten her life. Besides, she’s been ready to get away from her abusive dad with his brutal punishments as long as she can remember.

So, Rosaleen and Lily take off to Tiburon, SC where they encounter the bee-keeping calendar sisters: August, June, and May. These bee-keeping queens open their home to Lily and Rosaleen and over the course of a few months they become family.

I’ve never seen the movie, but it certainly has an all-star cast including Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys. In the comments, tell me what you think of the film and whether or not I should watch it!

Between, Georgia, 2007, Joshilyn Jackson

Nonny Frett grew up in Between, Georgia, between her real mom (the one who raised her) and her biological one. Her real mom, Stacia Frett, is blind and deaf; Stacia’s twin Genny suffers from crippling anxiety; and Stacia and Genny’s older sister Bernese has a bad attitude, a controlling nature, and a secret that could break her fragile family to bits.

Nonny is devoted to mom Stacia and her quirky aunts, suspicious of her biological family and their redneck ways, and sick to death of her cheating, divorce-avoidant husband. Between her complex family relationships and her hit-or-miss career, Nonny has plenty to keep her busy. She certainly does not have time for an all-out battle between the Fretts and her biological family, the Crabtrees. But when you live between two families in Between, Georgia, you don’t necessarily get a choice about when, or how, the battle will be fought.

By the way, this is the book that introduced me to Joshilyn Jackson. I’ve read all of her books now and listened to most of them as audiobooks. I’m a loyal fan and try never to miss a Joshilyn Jackson release.

Each of these authors has written multiple other books. I encourage you to check out the ones above along with the rest of their works. Do you have a favorite from one of these great Southern Writers?

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.