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BOOK REVIEWS Rough South, Rural South: Region and Class in Recent Southern Literature. Ed. Jean W. Cash and Keith Perry. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016. 256 pp. $65.00 casebound. CONTEMPORARY SOUTHERN FICTION IS A WELLSPRING OF EXCITEMENT these days, thanks in no small part to Rough South writers. Scholarly and popular audiences alike are eating up stories of the hardscrabble South, devouring novels (and their cinematic adaptations) by writers like Dorothy Allison, Cormac McCarthy, and Daniel Woodrell. With Rough South, Rural South, a twenty-two-essay collection from the University Press of Mississippi, editors Jean W. Cash and Keith Perry have made a valuable contribution to the growing body of scholarship on these stories. The anthology kicks off with two essays about early efforts to define the genre. In the first one, filmmaker Gary Hawkins explains how he coined the phrase “Rough South” in the late 1980s as part of a pitch to make TV shows spotlighting writers including Harry Crews and Larry Brown. In the second, an excerpt from an article first published in Southern Cultures in 2000, scholar Erik Bledsoe teases out the genre’s key authors and characteristics. From there, essays spotlight particular writers, beginning with Harry Crews and Cormac McCarthy, the genre’s progenitors, and then move chronologically through the rest of the twentieth century. The collection closes with two essays looking at the twenty-first-century Rough South in literature and film, respectively. This organizational strategy works well, bookending the collection with information about the Rough South’s past and future while devoting the lion’s share of its attention to in-depth discussions of particular Rough South writers. The author-focused essays routinely open by describing the featured writer’sRoughSouthbonafides—usually,blue-collarjobsthatsupported themselves or their parents, or rural communities they grew up in, or both. Articles then survey the author’s major works, making clear the stories’ central themes and stylistic features. The Rough South cadre featured here is a boys’ club—just four of the eighteen chapters examine women writers—but this gender imbalance cannot be laid at the feet of the collection’s editors. As Barbara Bennett notes in her essay on Jill 642 Mississippi Quarterly McCorkle in this volume, women are rarely classified as Rough South authors. A number of contributors engage with the essay by Bledsoe excerpted early in the anthology. This approach has the benefit of establishing a coherent, agreed-upon sense of the Rough South’s major moves and players. A drawback, though, is that it keeps attention focused on Bledsoe’s ideas rather than bringing in more of the scholarship on Rough South literature published in the years since Bledsoe’s piece first appeared. Because it provides detailed overviews of Rough South writers and their works, this anthology should particularly appeal to readers looking to jumpstart their knowledge of the genre. For those already familiar withtheseauthors,someofthemosteye-openingessaysinthecollection might be those connecting Rough South writers to other southern traditions. One of my favorites in this vein is Thomas Ærvold Bjerre’s “The Rough South of Ron Rash,” which links Rash to the Vanderbilt Agrarians—a surprising connection, considering that many of the Agrarians sprang from and advocated for the elite, and yet a convincing one given the writers’ shared interest in exploring agricultural labor’s fruits and industrial work’s foibles. Other contributors’ dynamic engagements with both primary texts and secondary scholarship make for lively and informative arguments. Robert Donahoo’s fine essay on Clyde Edgerton, for example, displays an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Edgertonian, giving readers a rich sense of both Edgerton’s novels and critical responses to them. One of the best things about this book is how it pushes us to test the boundaries of what we think of as Rough South writing. As Cash notes in the introduction, Rough South authors are often identified as an all-white group. In her essay surveying twenty-first-century fiction, Cash troubles this convention, including Jesmyn Ward among the writers she treats. But the editors’ capacious characterization of the Rough South allows us to imagine reconfiguring the genre even more dramatically. What if we reworked the Rough South not from here on...


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