Nanci Kincaid,
As Hot as It Was,
You Ought to Thank Me

(Back Bay/Little Brown, 2005)

In a grand tradition that includes Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Donna Tartt and T.R. Pearson, this fresh-faced novel, full of wry, twisty-gut humor, brilliantly evokes the best and darkest Southern Gothic.

Adolescent protagonist Berry Jackson, who so strongly recalls earlier plucky heroines such as Scout Finch and Harriet Dufresnes, narrates her dreary life in a small rural town in Florida where her father is the principal of the tiny school of about a hundred students 1-12. Everybody knows everybody else and can't quite keep themselves from each other's business. The greatest weekly excitement is the competition between the churches for the greatest number of cars in the parking lot for Sunday services; only of slightly less anticipation and thrill provocation is the battle of the church choirs who vie to out-sing each other.

The plot is sufficiently dark, but Berry's incorrigible resilience and abiding wit proscribes any mawkishness. While the plot is engaging, Nanci Kincaid's style and spot-on characterization carry the work. Stylistically, aside from echoes of all the SouthGoth authors mentioned above, there are also resonances of Joyce Carol Oates (at her gothic best), the Brontes, Jayne Anne Philips, Carolyn Chute and even Proust.

Her characters, from Berry herself, her parents, her friend Jimmy, her brothers and the myriad quirky townspeople, are honest and real, but of them all, it is Berry who will linger with you after you've turned (with considerable reluctance) the last page.

by Stephen Richmond
22 July 2006

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