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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!

1392050269-southern-sin_frontcover“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. 

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  • busboy / March 21, 2014

    I don’t have any “sin stories”! I need to live vicariously through the stories in the book!!

  • Karl / March 21, 2014

    My sin: born in Dallas, became a Damn Yankee. I have dual citizenship! Glad to have my Southern roots–not sure people here in liberal Massachusetts understand the South. Currently reading Sycamore Row, dreaming of the South.

  • Anita / March 21, 2014

    I was raised a Southern Baptist and became Catholic! Not a sin in my book but a couple of my Aunts did ask my momma if she was upset..ha ha.

  • Bloomin'Chick Jo / March 22, 2014

    Hm… Well, if you’re Irish, this will make sense: My sin is that I put ice in my Guinness! And I’m sure my ancestors roll in their graves every single time I do.

  • nothoney / March 22, 2014

    My greatest sin, according to some, was marrying a Yankee from New York. I rectified that mistake many years back and all is forgiven. Leaving the Southern Baptist Church to become Episcopalian is another story …

  • OkieLiving / March 24, 2014

    I have lots of “sins”…In my younger days, whenever I drank I would pass out and pee my pants as well as the furniture I passed out upon. One morning I awoke to the familiar wet pants and sheets. But instead of cleaning it up I threw the comforter atop the puddle because I had a hot date coming over right then. The bed was my only furniture so of course he sat down upon the bed. I perched on the edge of the bed but didn’t say anything hoping he wouldn’t notice! As we watched Crybaby he jumped up and his pants were soaked. I acted stupid and said I must have spilt some water. He didn’t believe me after he wiped his hands over the wet area and smelt it. Needless, to say I never saw him again! Is this sinful or just embarrassing? 😉

  • KT / March 24, 2014

    Let’s see… Last summer I moved from Southern California to North Carolina, to attend a graduate writing program. Prior to making the weeklong road trip across all of I-40, I made the mistake of stocking up on medical ganja for the move. I was pulled over for speeding late one night in Arkansas, and the cop ended up searching my entire car. When he unearthed my stash, he threatened to take me in. I protested that the herb was a prescription for clinical anxiety, to which he replied, “Ma’am, I don’t mean to be a prick. But this is Arkansas.” I figured he had a point, and told him as much. He dumped out my supply on the highway, and I think the only reason he didn’t put me in jail was because my service dog, a young, shepherd mutt, wouldn’t stop barking at him. “Go along now, Kujo,” he said when he finally let us carry on to Little Rock for the night. Ever since, I have been a little more careful about “sinning” in the South!

  • nolafleurdelit / March 24, 2014

    I’m pretty guilty of all seven of the deadly sins when it comes to books:

    1. Gluttony: I’m a compulsive book buyer. Just this weekend at Tennessee Williams Fest, I bought at least 15 books, even though I have two overflowing bookshelves at home of unread books. Will I ever read them all? Who knows, but I keep buying.

    2. Pride: I’m overly proud of my book collection & knowledge, & I’m happy to share it with you. Even at the expense of you feeling like an idiot. Which leads to the next sin…

    3. Wrath: I get VERY angry when people misuse the English language. I’m a pretty hard core grammar Nazi. Hell hath no fury like a grammar Nazi scorned.

    4. Envy: Do you have a book that I don’t? Have you read a classic that I haven’t? Are you able to attend literary conferences that I can’t? Enough said.

    5. Sloth: I tend to spend entire weekends, & sometimes entire vacations, sprawled in bed with a book, apathetic to the world around me.

    6. Lust: Have you read 50 Shades of Gray or Danielle Steele? Or any romance novels? I haven’t…*slowly removes Kindle from the table & hides it behind back*

    Oh, and I have a Kindle and buy e-books from Amazon, which (I’m sure you’ll agree) is the worst sin of all.

  • JC / March 24, 2014

    My sins are not singular, my sins stretch back in my past to the point at which I became conscious of myself. I was about four years old and my extended family on my father’s side of the family was coming to visit. My mother dressed me in a blue dress with this horrible itchy netting underneath. My next door neighbor, Gary Huckabee, was playing with his army men in the flower beds around his house. He kept coming to our screened back door and waving the dirt covered little green men at me, beckoning me to come out an join him. I could not sway my mother. I was to sit at the kitchen table and not get my dress mussed up until my aunts, uncles and cousins arrived. I kept thinking if only I could get out of the dress, spill something on it, maybe. As my mother left the room she told me, “Don’t eat or drink anything. I don’t want you to get food on your dress.” Well, there went that idea. I wasn’t hungry anyway. In fact, my tummy was a bit upset. I walked over behind the wooden door in the kitchen that had been left ajar, relieved my turning tummy in my underwear and then sat on the floor, twisting around, making sure that what I had produced got all over the back of my dress. I received my first spanking for my first sin. It got me out of the dress, but not outside to play with my buddy. Guess, I didn’t think that one through.

  • Sassie / March 25, 2014

    My southern sin? A 30 year affair with a married man. We met when I was 16. He was just married but we were smitten with each other. We began an affair that has continued for over 30 years. I married another man but divorced him years ago. There was a child born of the affair but no one knows but me. He is my soul mate. I shall never date nor marry qaeyagain. I wait. Waiting on what, I don’t know. The affair is enough for now. People suspect. We deny. His wife knows but she’s so caught up in the social bs she ignores it. She sees me in the street and turns her headš.