Counterfeit Southern gothic?

WCU professor and award-winning fiction writer Ron Rash contributes a worthy anecdote to Oxford American‘s new “Best of the South” issue. It’s nice to see a local featured — but, in my opinion, the rest of the issue epitomizes what’s been wrong with the magazine since its (third or fourth — who can keep count?) relaunch a couple years ago under an all-new masthead.

George Singleton’s rant about wannabe writers and their exhibitionist ways at coffee shops is good stuff, but the fiction is utterly head-scratching: Hannah Pittard’s story about two rabid sisters priming one another’s bodies for a juicy bite while their old grandpa rots away in the next room is apparently trying to be some sort of sensual magical-realism, but reads way more in the vein of that awful Nick Cave novel The Ass Saw the Angel, the Bad Seed’s nearly unreadable own stab at Southern Gothic. (“Strange new fiction!” the OA promises on the cover.) And what’s up with one Andy Selzberg of Brooklyn getting front-cover status pretty much just because he likes a brand of potato chip supposedly made in Louisiana? How is this relevant?

The old OA didn’t look as good as the new one — check out that super-funky folk art, so colorful and quirky! — but neither did it seem to be trying so very hard. There’s a breath of disconnect pervading the magazine’s new incarnation, somebody’s idea of what a magazine featuring Southern writers and/or Southern subjects should be rather than, well, simply a magazine featuring Southern writers and/or Southern subjects. It’s like those little clusters of newly constructed arts-and-craft-style bungalows cropping up on Sand Hill Road and other areas about town: attractive, yes, but a trifle false. Waiting for a hurricane. If there were hurricanes here.

— Melanie McGee Bianchi, staff writer

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