Review of ‘Southern Sin’
A new collection of 23 stories includes an array of Southern writers reminding us that sin, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
We have two copies of this book to give away. Scroll down for details!
“The most dangerous stories are the true stories, the ones we hesitate to tell, the adventures leaden with fear or shame or the relentless pull of regret. Some of those are about things that we are secretly deeply proud to have done,” writes Dorothy Allison in the introduction to Southern Sin: True Stories of sultry south & women behaving badly. Author of Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison talks about the temptation of sin growing up Baptist and how it just has to come out sometimes. Stories, she says, allow for profound exploration of why we do the bad things we do.
“What is specifically Southern about sin?” she asks. You’ll have to read the stories in this book to find out, but they do cover almost all of the seven deadly ones.
The first story — “What Was Left” by Molly Langmuir — starts out with two friends hatching a plan to ditch their station wagon in Atlanta, take the bus to New Orleans and then hitchhike back to the car. Their sense of abandon leads them to pose nude for a creepy photographer they meet in a New Orleans coffee shop. They were invincible together, still had their figures and wore short skirts. Besides, one character explains, whatever physical dangers they found themselves in couldn’t be as bad as being 15 years old and in the midst of a happy family that was falling apart.
The friends survive the experience relatively unscathed and even get paid for their stunt but realize it’s time to go home. They forgo the hitchhiking for a train ride back to the car. The story ends with the two friends reconnecting years later and seeing a photo of themselves from that fateful New Orleans shoot.
“It was a nice photo, sort of charming, even, but it made me sad, this visual representation of the risks I used to be willing to take with myself,” the same character laments.
As Allison said, there’s often pride behind the sin. Only the sinner knows the reason behind his or her motives and often those motives are entirely different than they appears. Other stories, like “In-Training” by Ellen Hagan, are simply about being young and in love — and the sins that come with it, at least in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Place plays a big role in some of these stories, perhaps helping to better explain the Southernness of sin. In “The On-Ramp” by Amy Thigpen, a woman travels home to New Orleans and is immediately seduced by the sounds, food and people of the city. “A Lesson in Merging” by Rachel Peckham details a young student’s move to Milledgeville, Georgia, and her lust and envy for her professor’s husband and life, while a movie theater in Benton, Arkansas, becomes an important setting for a lesbian daughter’s acceptance by her parents in “Matinee” by Mendy Knott.
Then, there’s Elane Johnson’s “Porn Star” about a woman who decides to take advantage of her muscular calves and make her mother proud all at the same time. “It’s been a long-held goal of mine not to become a porn star. I was raised in the First Baptist Church of Thomaston, Georgia, and while the only things of substance I recall are miniature glasses of grape juice, squares of saltines, and a permeating scent of Play-Doh, I’m certain the congregation frowns upon pornography to this day. And yet, against my most fervent wishes, I find myself to be nearly fifty and a reluctant porn star.”
You’ll have to read the story to find out just how she gets there. Edited by Lee Gutkind, founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction magazine, where this project was born, and Beth Ann Fennelly, who directs the MFA program at Ole Miss, Southern Sin is a tantalizing ride through the steamy South.
As Fennelly points out in her editor’s note, rarely do we see a story or film about a woman who goes “bad” and isn’t punished. In each of these stories, women may not be behaving the way society expects them to and they may be doing what’s technically “sinning” in religious terms, but as Fennelly writes, “such badness is good when it’s necessary to maintain the integrity of the soul.”
Southern Sin is available now from InFACT Books. We have two copies to give away. To enter to win, comment here and share your own sinful story — however bad it made be — and we’ll choose a winner on Wednesday. Only entries in the U.S. will be considered.