In this blog feature, I explore the contents of anthologies of American Gothic literature (as explicitly identified by book title), considering the extent to which the selections exemplify the genre. Tonight, I continue to work my way through the contents of Flame Tree Publishing’s 2019 volume American Gothic Short Stories: Anthology of New & Classic Tales.
“Old Homeplace” by Joshua Hiles (2019)
Hiles’s Faulknerian story (first published in this anthology) presents many recognizable elements of the American Gothic. There’s a decayed setting: a backwoods Missouri town reduced to “a ramshackle ruin” by flood and mud. There are primitive, clannish characters who seem out of step with the modern world. The sins of the fathers (and grandfathers and great-grandfathers…) loom large, thanks to an unending blood feud between two interrelated families. A sense of hereditary guilt reaches supernatural proportions, in the forms of strange ghosts (such as a beckoning, frog-head-chomping young girl) and a sinister black panther (believed by main character Elijah to be “our secrets and hates made flesh. I think it stalks us as retribution for those [past] crimes, and to punish anyone who sheds blood here in town.”). The climax feels a bit rushed, and all those family connections/transgressions can be confusing, but Hiles clearly knows how to create a strong sense of place and bathe it in creepy atmosphere.