Twilight By William Gay
I have one word that perfectly describes this book : Atmospheric. Sure there’s a bunch of other words that spring to mind, like creepy, dark and vaguely disturbing, but most of all its atmospheric.
Twilight is set in Tennessee in the 1950’s and revolves around two teenage siblings, Corrie and Kenneth Tyler who make a gristly discovery upon digging up their father’s grave. The discovery makes them suspicious of the local undertaker, Fenton Breece, so they dig up further graves and find that their bootlegger father isn’t the only corpse that has been defiled. The two are determined to find evidence to get Breece locked away, so Kenneth (called simply Tyler throughout the book) steals a briefcase from Brecce’s car. When they discover what is in the suitcase they concoct a plan to blackmail Breece, but Breece doesn’t buy that they won’t turn him in after he’s paid up, so he hires local nutjob Granville Sutter (who has gotten off murder charges several times by intimidating the jury) to silence the Tylers and get back the contents of the case. This leads to a deadly chase, with Tyler fleeing into the Harrikin, the untamed woods of the area.
The Harrikin feels like another main character in this book, which is what makes it so atmospheric – the setting feels like a living breathing entity. William Gay uses language in a really beautiful way, not necessarily using beautiful words, but describing using a really unique style, almost like poetry. One line I really enjoyed was this:
“A cold updraft off subterranean waters came like breath from an ancient tomb, and he dreamed inkblack rivers coursing in the stone veins of the earth where chunks of ice black as obsidian clocked through the dark and where whatever arcane creatures lived were unsighted and at the mercy of the current.”
I must’ve read that line three or more times because it had amazing imagery and was quite chilling for such an innocent part of the story. This was a common theme in Twilight, It easily drifted from simple, harmless descriptions of the landscape, to strange dream sequences and possible ghostly happenings. On the spine of my library-borrowed copy was a sticker with a little black ghost, indicating that this book belong to the genre of ghost stories, and this puzzled me at first. Now I’ve finished the story I still am not quite sure if Ghost Story is a fitting category for it – Twilight doesn’t seem to fit into any category. I would perhaps call it Southern Gothic, but I haven’t read enough books from that genre to say for sure. To me it felt like a demented fairy tale…in a good way. This was mainly because of the host of strange characters that Tyler comes across on his “journey” through the Harrikin to find a lawyer in a neighbouring town that will believe his story. It is in the descriptions of these fleeting characters that Gay once again excels. Bookbinder, an old man who Tyler stops to talk to and get directions is described thus:
“Arthritis had seized his eighty-year-old knees, and on the steeper hillsides he looked not unlike some gaunt puppet jerked along by an inept or careless puppeteer who’d lost interest in him”
And an old witch-woman he meets is described like this:
“A tiny gnomish woman who’d come no higher than his chest, a dried and fragile elf of indetiminate but advanced age who seemed light and delicate as the fluted bones of birds found in the woods. Dressed all in homedyed black like the sole survivor of some obscure sect she’d outlived here in this lost wood, with foxes for lapdogs and whippoorwills nesting in her henhouse.”
Twilight is filled with vivid language like this, and the dialogue has no quotation marks so it has equal importance to the descriptions instead of either taking over (although it is sometimes confusing keeping track of who is saying what).
I also really enjoyed the language used by the characters – good ole 1950’s Southern talk 🙂
Twilight is a creepy story, and is a lot to take in, but If you’re willing to give it a go and you love language, then it is well worth it.
I give Twilight by William Gay:
4 ½ / 5 Stars