Paul Alexander, author of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams: The Life, Times and Legend of James Dean" (Viking) and "Salinger: A Biography," which is about to be made into a documentary by Shane Salerno, has written a memorable novel about a showbiz family.
"Southern Gothic" is a brilliant study of an alcoholic family in the throes of the disease. Alexander’s description of protagonist Carson Greer is on the money: "Carson wore a black sheath dress, black Ferragamo flats, a single strand of white cultured pearls.”
Carson’s mother, Evelyn Greer, is the Oscar-winning actress, Greer Garson. Their home is described so that you know them before meeting them. “Between the two sofas stood a black Steinway baby grand piano, centered in the room near the windows. With its lid closed, the piano was home to a glittering assortment of awards and career mementos. You couldn’t miss the Tonys -- three of them -- or the Academy Award.”
Thirty-something Carson Greer is in a failed marriage, and her mother Evelyn Greer is in one as well. Evelyn’s husband is having an affair, and she has put blinders on to ignore the inevitable: divorce. Meanwhile, Carson longs for a baby, but after her divorce and after many, many attempts at a fertility clinic, her dream of creating a family escapes her.
Carson has a brother, Rocky, who is a homosexual. He has had to face a tragedy in his life that has scarred him. Alcohol has also scarred him and Evelyn to the point that Evelyn ends up in rehab, which changes her life.
This hodgepodge of characters with roots in the south come together at Elaine’s in New York, Easthampton and various hotspots around New York City.
Finally at a fertility clinic Carson meets a man who has a high sperm count. Tyler Is a starving artist who supports himself by working at a bicycle shop. He is not after her money, despite the fact that she pays him for sex initially for his sperm without knowing what he looks like. Even though she met him through the sperm clinic, she deviates from the norm, a.k.a. the clinic’s rules, and seeks him out due to his valuable sperm. After so many failed attempts the clinic’s way, she wants to experiment with him by her own rules. And she becomes pregnant.
Alexander writes, “On the phone, they had discussed ground rules. She would wear her white cotton nightgown, the closest thing she had to a hospital gown. There would be no kissing on the mouth. In fact, they would hold kissing to a minimum; it would be employed only if Tyler really needed it to achieve the desired end.”
"Southern Gothic" is about longing, the desire for family and values. It has an erotic heat because you long for Carson and Tyler to make love to each other not only for the sperm, but for each other. Page after page go by while you are turning to see this love manifests. It is a Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of love affair. Is it based on caring? Or financial gain on the part of Tyler, who is promised $10,000 if he is able to impregnate Carson? Or is Carson only having sex with Tyler for his sperm?
And how will Rocky deal with his homosexuality after he has been held up in Atlantic City by a gay dude allegedly from Mykonos? Will Rocky find true love and acceptance from his tyrannical father, Cliff Mountain? Yes, Cliff Mountain’s son’s name is Rocky Mountain. Alexander’s names are filled with wit and vivid imagery.
After a trip to a clinic, Evelyn Greer (Mountain) is able to achieve sobriety and to return to Broadway starring in a new play. Carson and Tyler conceive and plan marriage, and Rocky finds a boyfriend who treats him with respect.
The dysfunctional Southern family has joyfully reached happy endings in "Southern Gothic," a page-turner if I ever read one. You will cry and laugh and long for these characters to find what they are seeking. And if you choose to read it, you could be choosing to have a satisfying read on your hands.