Nick White’s collection of stories Sweet and Low are best described as evidence of the new South. Ever present are the themes that demonstrate the complexity of the South – the oppressive heat and beauty of our states (in this case, Mississippi); the animals we do life with and in spite of; and the people that are both our charm and disgrace – often in the same soul. Students of the Southern greats will recognize the peculiar, the odd, the disfigured, the freaks – in setting, narrative and character. Since it has been a while since I’ve read what I’d consider pure Southern literature, this read made me feel it was nice to come home.
While I describe this collection as reflective of the new South, it isn’t because there is anything new about the themes in White’s collection, but the acceptance and absorption of them into the natural state is.
Divided into two parts, the first- “Heavenly Bodies” – is a collection of four unrelated stories. Within these four is perhaps the most intense short story I’ve ever read.
In “Cottonmouth, Trapjaw, Water Moccasin” a farmer finds himself pinned to the ground and face to face with the title character. A prolonged stare down between the two induces a reflection by the old man in keeping with what Flannery O’Connor once said, “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” This story alone is worth the purchase price of the collection.
The stories in part two “The Exaggerations” have a common character, Forney, who – in the course of six stories – grows from being orphaned by a father’s early death and a mother following her dream in Nashville to a writer/father of boy struggling with a family curse and his own “differentness.” I enjoyed watching Forney grow, and found myself looking forward to each new chapter of his life.
I enjoyed this collection a lot. It has some strong sexual content that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but that aside, a worthy read for anyone who loves the South and our literature. This collection is available June 5, 2018.
I was provided an advanced readers copy of this book by Penguin Random House’s First to Read program in exchange for an honest review. To learn more, go to firsttoread.com.
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