- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Dzanc Books; First Edition edition (July 10, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1945814527
- ISBN-13: 978-1945814525
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lost Country Hardcover – July 10, 2018
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- Catherine Bock, Parnassus Books
"William Gay's The Lost Country lands like a shimmering gift from the beyond. For those of us who cherish and honor Gay's tremendous talent, his bold method of seeing the waste and wonder we are, this posthumous novel is a reminder of what we miss: the language pitched toward the sublime, his men and women grappling for redemption in a world that has damned them, his understanding of grace in the presence of human badness. When Gay died too soon, we lost much, but The Lost Country gives a piece of him back to us."
-- William Giraldi, author of Hold the Dark
"Like so many fans of William Gay's work I've been waiting to read this seemingly mythical work, The Lost Country, for a quite some time. I still remember the feeling of admiration and awe I got when I read an early copy of his first novel, The Long Home, back in the late nineties and reading this new or lost novel you might call it gave me exactly the same feeling. Gay's elegiac prose sings once again as he breathes life into his characters and mines his patch of soil with the skill of the old masters. The Lost Country is the story of Billy Edgewater and his hard journey through a post World War II South filled with the downtrodden - hucksters, racists, drunks, bad or lost men and women all trying to make it in a harsh rural setting that is unforgiving yet beautiful. It's a helluva good ride and I can't wait to recommend it to readers."
-Cody Morrison, Square Books
"The novel exposes us to a deliciously dark southern underbelly, one that, when paired with its sparse, lean prose and quiet intensity, becomes incredibly mesmerizing."
--The Next Best Book Club
"Gay’s great abilities in character building, richness of language and storytelling are on full display in this posthumous novel."
-Charles Frazier, author of Varina
"Gay's midcentury Tennessee is a realm of bad weather and small-town lowlifes, vagrancy laws, and bootleg liquor; every man is a drunk, alternately listless and lustful and violent; every woman is defined by the use she makes (or once made, or will make) of her body. Yet there is humor in this bleakness, and it bubbles up from the same human springs as the cruelty and violence. ... Infidelities, prison breaks, murderous revenge, biblical language, and a deep kinship between the land and its inhabitants―Gay's novel is full-on Southern gothic and will delight fans of the genre."
About the Author
Born in Tennessee in 1939, William Gay began writing at fifteen and wrote his first novel at twenty-five, but didn’t begin publishing until well into his fifties. He worked as a TV salesman, in local factories, did construction, hung sheetrock, and painted houses to support himself. He preferred to sit in a kitchen chair at the edge of the woods with a spiral-bound notebook on his knee, writing in his peculiar scrawling longhand. His works include The Long Home, Provinces of Night, I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Wittgenstein’s Lolita, and Twilight. His work has been adapted for the screen twice, That Evening Sun (2009) and Bloodworth (2010). Most recently, his debut novel has been optioned for film. He died in 2012.
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Gay died in 2012 and in the past six years, 3 posthumous books have emerged, which is lightning speed in the publishing world. Interestingly, though a mysterious figure while alive, Little Sister Death and The Lost Country are Gay at his most autobiographical, as if he could only reveal himself after he was gone.
The Lost Country is a sprawling Southern epic that follows Billy Edgewater during a change of seasons in Tennessee in 1955. Flashbacks and memories are told in italicized print, a man haunted already at a relatively young age by his past, discharged from the Navy and drifting around Tennessee letting life happen to him. A minor criticism is that Gay's use of italics seemed a bit excessive here, a bit hard on the eyes, but the writing in them is as beautiful as ever. We follow Billy as he drifts, saying very little but observing much, interacting with most people in a minimal, calm, sardonic way. The adventures are fantastic and told fluidly and brilliantly by Gay. This is not the South of the Waltons or of peaceful, idyllic bumpkins: this is the hardscrabble, dog-eat-dog South -- Gay frequently repeats the words "predatory" and "sinister." His characters have basically 3 things on their minds: sex, violence, and whiskey.
Though I'm quite familiar with Gay's work, I was a bit worried at first that the opening of the book finds Edgewater involved in two acts of violence in a single day, which seemed at first a bit improbable, but once the reader dives into this lost country of desperation and ne'er-do-wells one sees that violence, solving quarrels with violence and getting revenge, is as natural in rural Tennessee of the time as breathing. Gay's world is not one of Southern hospitality but inhospitable-ness; he chronicles it all with an amazingly keen eye, a sense of compassion, and many moments of subtle, dark humor. The writing simply soars, and while Gay has an expert ear for dialect and a great way of writing suspenseful narrative, it's his poetic-prose descriptions of Tennessee's lost, abandoned areas that showcase his deepest talents. This is a South where World War 2 plays a small role but the hard living of post-Civil War times plays a larger role: while there are cars of the time there are also wagons, while there is modern industry there are still the vestiges of an agrarian, moonshining society. Reading Lost Country is almost like reading a history book of the times and area, but far juicier and far more honest. I checked all Gay's references to objects and products for anachronism but everything checks out. He knows about what he writes, knows it in his bones and through lived (and imagined) experience.
If you know your William Gay, you'll also notice brief references in Lost Country to some of his other works: the snake-ridden shed of Little Sister Death, a demented undertaker from Twilight, a thief with a moneybelt from Stoneburner. While more posthumous releases are in the pipeline, I would dub Lost Country as his magnum opus, perhaps this and Provinces of Night.
Like a complex, warming, aged Tennessee bourbon, this is a book to savor. Gay wrote it in the 1970s and when it was due to a publisher around 2011 or so, couldn't find it. Luckily a dedicated team of Gay fans resurrected it and brought it to life. I am so glad they did, and sad at the same time that William did not get in his lifetime to see it published, for this is not just any old book but something special, a book to put in the Library of Congress, a book to put in a time capsule, a book to put on the Voyager spacecraft. While it was already established, The Lost Country confirms once again Gay's utter genius, a man who was not meant to hang drywall and paint houses (which he did for much of his life, writing largely in secret) but to live and observe and write about the rural South in all its grit and beauty.
If you like the writing of Cormac McCarthy, you will probably enjoy William Gay. They have a similar style, especially McCarthy's more descriptive, epic novels like Blood Meridian, a similar Silent Generation sensibility and even stylistic disdain for quotation marks for dialogue. McCarthy may be more well-known, but Gay is just as good, if not better.