Emily Carpenter’s second novel merges racism and horror on the Georgia coast.
We were thrilled when Emily Carpenter agreed to be a guest author for our “Race in Place” theme for Southern Voice. She burst onto the literary scene in 2016 with Burying the Honeysuckle Girls and then followed up her debut novel this past summer with The Weight of Lies. The Alabama-born novelist takes the Southern Gothic genre to the extreme in her second novel set on a remote Georgia island. With a dose of true horror thrown in, Carpenter writes a novel within a novel, interspersing her main story with short chapters from a novel written by her character Frances.
Frances spent a summer on remote Bonny Island at Ambletern Hotel, the home of Dorothy Kitchens, who was just eight years old when a Native American girl was murdered there. Strange and reclusive, Doro is said to be the inspiration for Frances’s cult classic Kitten. In The Weight of Lies, Carpenter uses the history of the destruction of the Guale Indians’ culture along the Georgia coast to explore white appropriation and privilege
“I really wanted to deconstruct some aspects of a white person’s response to this,” she says. “I think it’s something we’ve all seen—that initial jolt of horror and empathy you feel when you’re confronted with the facts, but then what happens afterward can get weird. Sometimes people take on this kind of inappropriate identification with these groups. It’s like their empathy goes awry somehow, and they start to identify with the situation by appropriating Native culture in bizarre, careless and hurtful ways … like using pieces of their actual lives and past to accessorize our houses.”
Here’s an excerpt from 2017’s The Weight of Lies, which begins with a chapter from Kitten:
— from Chapter 1
Kitten”—that was what everyone called her. No proper Christian name, just Kitten.
“Kitten, dear,” her mother would say at breakfast in her musical Southern drawl, and the girl would skip from the hotel’s elegant dining room, reappearing with a fresh pitcher of orange juice for the guests gathered around the great mahogany table.
“Kitten, my sweet,” her father would say after cognac had been poured and cigarettes lit. And the girl would turn the great iron key that dangled in the lock of the front door, curtsy, and bid everyone a good night.
Fay felt lucky to be entrusted with the care of such a poised and advanced child and in such a beautiful setting. She wasn’t without worries about her small charge, though. The child had some oddities—a few secretive tendencies and strange habits.
On more than one occasion, after Kitten had locked the front door of the hotel for her father, Fay was sure she saw the girl take the key out of the old brass lock and slip it into her pocket.
Ashley, Frances. Kitten. New York: Drake, Richards and Weems, 1976. Print.