Gay, William 1943(?)-
Gay, William 1943(?)-
Born c. 1943 (some sources say 1944), in Hohenwald, TN; son of a sharecropper; divorced; children: four.
Writer. Has worked as a television tube assembly-line worker, post-hole digger, roofer, painter, bricklayer, drywall hanger, and carpenter. Military service: Served in the U.S. Navy.
William Peden Prize.
The Long Home, MacMurray & Beck (Denver, CO), 1999.
Provinces of Night, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Free Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Suzanne Kingsbury) Alumni Grill: Anthology of Southern Writers, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
Twilight: A Novel, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2006.
Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Georgia Review, Oxford American, and Missouri Review.
In 1999 Tennessee carpenter and drywall hanger William Gay surprised his friends, neighbors, and readers alike when he published his debut novel, the morality tale The Long Home. This story of love and retribution takes place in rural Georgia during the 1940s, though a prologue set in 1932 recounts how malicious Dallas Hardin murdered Nathan Winer, a tenant farmer, in a dispute over a whiskey still. The contemporary action revolves around Winer's son, who is also named Nathan, a carpenter unwittingly employed by Hardin to build a honky-tonk bar. By this time, through nefarious means Hardin has become the local tycoon and wields his power ruthlessly. To further complicate matters, Winer falls in love with Hardin's daughter, Amber Rose, before he discovers from local hermit William Tell Oliver the truth of Nathan's father's murder. For her part, Amber Rose sees Winer as her only chance to escape her dire situation.
The Long Home caught critics' attention, including that of Tony Earley, who remarked in the New York Times Book Review: "In the high tradition of the Southern novel, Gay is unafraid to tackle the biggest of the big themes, nor does he shy away from the grand gesture that makes those themes manifest." Earley noted similarities in style between Gay and Cormac McCarthy, such as the creation of new adjectives, a tendency toward melodrama, and a certain level of violence. Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic noted the strong influence of William Faulkner on Gay, whom he called a "gifted author." Several critics praised Gay's characterizations. For instance, the Kirkus Reviews contributor applauded Gay for creating "several memorable scenes and striking characterizations" and asserted that at times the novel "tells a gripping and intermittently haunting story." Earley called the characters "almost without exception, sharply observed, three-dimensional human beings." Booklist critic Grace Fill praised Gay's prose style as "unusual, with some startlingly beautiful, almost poetic, descriptive passages."
In his Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer review, Michael Chitwood noted Gay's "real ear for mountain vernacular and for the delightful descriptive phrases mountaineers coin." A Publishers Weekly reviewer maintained that although the "dialogue may sometimes be too twangy, Gay writes well-crafted prose that unfolds toward necessary (if occasionally unexpected) conclusions." "At his best," wrote Earley, "Gay writes with the wisdom and patience of a man who has witnessed hard times and learned that panic or hedging won't make better times come any sooner; he looks upon beauty and violence with equal measure and makes an accurate accounting of how much of each the human heart contains." Gay told a Charlotte Observer reporter: "I guess I learned to write by reading." He admitted: "I wasted years trying to write about stuff I didn't know anything about." Gay added: "It only worked when I started writing about my own part of the country and the people I grew up with. I could hear the dialogues exactly."
In 2002 Gay published I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, a collection of short stories described by Booklist's John Green as "gut-wrenching." All of the stories are set in rural Tennessee and involve people who tend to make the wrong choice at a critical juncture in their lives. The results are murder, suicide, and arson. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "These stories are loud—lots of guns, lots of death—but the plot-heaviness isn't a substitute for … plenty of dialogue that's as charming as it is wise." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "this collection is a fine showcase for Gay's imaginative talent."
Gay's second novel, Provinces of Night, tells the story of E.F. Bloodsworth and his attempt at a family reconciliation. Gone from his mountain-hollow Tennessee home for twenty years, Bloodsworth returns to find a dying town and a dysfunctional family. The only connection he can make is with his bookish son, Fleming, while his other three sons seem destined for tragedy. "The story that unfolds offers southern writing at its very finest," wrote John Green in Booklist. Referring to the book as a "remarkable literary powerhouse" in the Library Journal, Shannon Haddock went on to write that Provinces of Night "will surely capture the hearts and minds of any reader." Several reviewers also praised the author's use of descriptive language and his ear for dialogue. A Publishers Weekly contributor, for example, noted the author's "pitch-perfect rendition of the cadences of Southern speech and deeply poetic descriptions of the landscape."
In his 2006 book, Twilight: A Novel, Gay features Kenneth Tyler, a teenager on the run from a hit man seeking incriminating photos of his client. The photos reveal a rural Tennessee mortician's penchant for abusing corpses. As with Gay's other books, reviewers praised Gay's writing. "Language lovers who are not faint of heart won't want to miss this one," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. In a review of Twilight in Booklist, Michael Cart commented that the author "seems incapable of writing a dull sentence."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 1999, Grace Fill, review of The Long Home, p. 418; November 15, 2000, John Green, review of Provinces of Night, p. 609; September 1, 2002, John Green, review of I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, p. 53; October 1, 2006, Michael Cart, review of Twilight: A Novel, p. 35.
Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, NC), March 5, 2000, "When Gay Wrote about What He Knew, It Worked," p. 8F.
Dallas Morning News, December 5, 1999, Gregory McNamee, "Vengeance Brews Slowly," p. 8J.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1999, review of The Long Home; July 15, 2002, review of I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, p. 977.
Library Journal, January 1, 2001, Shannon Haddock, review of Provinces of Night, p. 153; August, 2002, Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, review of I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, p. 148.
News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 26, 1999, Michael Chitwood, "Murder, Moonshine, and Lyricism," p. G5.
New York Times, January 1, 2001, William Bernstein, review of Provinces of Night, p. E18(L).
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1999, Tony Earley, "Mephisto Tennessee Waltz," p. 12; February 18, 2001, Art Winslow, review of Provinces of Night, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1999, review of The Long Home, p. 72; November 13, 2000, review of Provinces of Night, p. 87; August 19, 2002, review of I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, p. 66; September 18, 2006, review of Twilight, p. 35.
Times Literary Supplement, August 3, 2001, Benjamin Markovits, review of Provinces of Night, p. 20.