I am an American, and a southerner—for better or worse—and throughout my writing life I’ve tried to engage with both. That is, of course, a tricky thing. As Jonathan Daniels said famously, “we Southerners are a mythological people, created half out of dream and half out of slander…” That is, perhaps, an exaggeration, but not by much. To be a southerner of any ethnicity, religion, or creed has always been to be misunderstood, to have foisted on you ideas about race and politics, intelligence and energy. The south in general, and the Appalachian south in particular has long been viewed less as a region than a problem. It’s nothing new.
But I began to sense an intensification of such in the leadup to the 2016 presidential election. The dream turned fever, the slander grew pointed, and while I don’t believe art is meant to change anything, I knew I wanted to write in response to it, to attempt to give a more nuanced view of the south I know, a place that is neither wholly depraved nor wholly romanticized—but certainly contains elements of both. The job of literature, after all, isn’t to smooth over moral complexity but it dig into such, to engage with the paradoxes and difficulties of being alive in this particular place at this particular time. The result is my eighth novel, The Late Rebellion, a dark family comedy set in the Appalachian South that I know—a place that is far more diverse and complex than generally presented.
The Late Rebellion tells the story of the Greaves family, the proverbial pillars of Germantown, their small South Carolina community that sits in the first folds of the Appalachian Mountains. Richard and Clara Greaves live in a stone manor paid for by the bank Richard founded three decades ago. Their oldest son Jack is the high school athletic director. Their daughter Emily is the county solicitor. Their youngest son Tom is, well, Tom seems a little lost lately. A former champion on the reality show American Ninja, he’s back from his self-described pilgrimage and feeling adrift. Nevertheless, their lives appear charmed, at least until the October weekend when they begin to unravel, quickly and publicly.
Richard learns he is about to be indicted for shady business transactions, while Jack, busy preparing for homecoming weekend, is desperate to reconnect with his teenage daughter. Emily’s marriage to the scion of a famous conservative politician is floundering. Meanwhile, she’s haunted by a horrific crime that has her considering giving up her career. As for Tom, no one is quite sure what’s wrong with Tom, what with his moodiness and his new Leonard Cohen tattoo. Everyone is so harried, in fact, no one seems to have realized Rose Greaves, Richard’s mother and the family matriarch, has suffered a stroke. Into this chaos comes Nayma, a young Mexican-American woman in a very conservative very white town; Elvis, an Iraq-vet who might be “an embryonic serial killer running on Zoloft and cognitive behavioral therapy at the V.A.” but is more likely simply lonely; and Dr. Elias Agnew, a high school teacher existing behind a facade of dissimulation–all of whom challenge traditional notions of what it means to be southern, and what it means to be accepted.
So this is my attempt to write about the south as it is, particularly after the 2016 election, after the rise of #MeToo and the pulling down of Confederate monuments, after the massacre of parishioners in Charleston. But more than that, it’s a novel about what family in the south has meant, and what it is coming to mean, particularly as old institutions begin to crumble.
I am the author of the novels Prodigals, Blood Kin, The Dark Corner, The Sheltering, Small Treasons, Firebird, and Lioness, and have received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Breadloaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and twice from the Fulbright Foundation to Slovakia and Romania. I’ve written about southern music and culture for the Oxford American, the war in Ukraine for The Daily Beast, and my dog for Garden & Gun. I live in the mountains of North Carolina where I direct the creative writing program at Appalachian State University.
Regal House Publishing is proud to bring you The Late Rebellion in the spring of 2024.