Southerners like horror stories. In the deep south, it often seems like a restless spirit is behind every tap on the window or sharp summer breeze. Maybe it’s because of our rough history or our love of tall tales, but either way, I grew up surrounded by a devoted, sometimes evangelical love of the supernatural.
I grew out of my belief in the supernatural, but I never stopped loving the stories. Even now, I’m quick to snap up any book about spooky southern folklore. A while ago, while visiting my family in Alabama, an opportunity presented itself to me. While visiting a local book chain, I came across Spooky South: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, by S.E. Schlosser. The title, though genetic, was enough to grab my attention, and the surreal artwork was enough to sell it. I took it home with me right away.
This book contains retellings of 38 different folktales from around the southeast. It contains a map displaying the locations of each story (by number), and the numbered table of contents tells the reader exactly where each story took place. I really like this feature, and I think it adds a lot of flavor to the book, but it’s also a bit wasted on the actual executions of the retellings.
I was already familiar with a handful of these stories. Some, like the tale of the Bell Witch, are familiar to many fans of the supernatural. Others, like the Wampus Cat, are a bit more regional in their distribution. The references section in the back shows good research on the part of the author, and I don’t doubt that she put genuine work into compiling these stories, but the writing itself didn’t draw me in.
Each story is short, often only 2-3 pages, though a few are a little longer. They’re perfect for a little bit of reading before bed, and they each come with a gorgeous illustration by Paul G Hoffman. The stories are narrated in one of a couple ways (with some told in a distant third-person style like a campfire story, and certain ones having first person setups to frame them), and are pretty straight forward. They describe something scary happening to someone, the end.
That’s what holds me back from loving this collection. The stories are competently written and it’s awesome to see such a wide collection of southern folk tales, but I just wanted a little more. It would have been nice to see more of them completing a narrative or having some characterization. If the author was truly going for the folk tale feel, some more atmosphere would have been just as serviceable.
That’s not to say that the book doesn’t work. I just find these retellings to be inconsistent and a little bit flat. While Thirteen Alabama Ghosts (which I reviewed here) deals with similar campfire fare, it adds local history and strong, close narration to really make the story feel like it matters. The stories in Spooky South sound more like something you’d overhear in a crowded bar. And that’s okay, but for me, it wasn’t quite enough. The research and presentation, especially those beautiful illustrations, certainly help lift it up in spite of that. If you want to read something quick to read before bed, this could be the folktale collection for you, but don’t expect to be frightened.