"Mississippi Noir" (Akashic Books), edited by Tom Franklin
"Mississippi Noir," the latest collection of dark, often unsettling short fiction in the series from Akashic Books, takes readers down twisting roads into the ghoulish backwaters of the Southern mind.
Make that the Mississippi mind. As in the other Akashic noir collections, all the stories in this book unfold in the state or place in the title. In these stories, from Biloxi to Hattiesburg, from Jackson to Oxford, the various crimes of the heart or doomed deeds of fractured households are carried out in real Mississippi locales, at least for the most part.
The Akashic series began with "Brooklyn Noir" in 2004 and in a dozen years has spanned the globe ("Paris Noir," ''Singapore Noir," ''Havana Noir") with more than 70 titles. Each collection is a showcase of sorts, featuring all new works of fiction, many by writers unknown or little known.
The Mississippi collection benefits from having Tom Franklin as its editor. The author of some of the finest novels and stories in the Southern gothic or noir line, including his own book of short stories, "Poachers," Franklin teaches at the University of Mississippi and has brought together a wide range of talent and a variety of voices.
This makes for an uneven collection, and some readers may wonder how one story or another was included at all. As "noir" implies, these stories are not sunny, and they are not for everybody.
They include well-known writers, such as Ace Atkins, who leads off with "Combustible," about a simmering, trash-talking teen girl with trailer-home issues, and Megan Abbott, whose "Oxford Girl" is a timely, dreamlike retelling of a coed in frat hell. Both Atkins and Abbott have been picked for previous Akashic noir collections.
A number of the book's lesser-known writers have published fiction and won honors, such as Mary Miller, whose narrator in "Uphill" is a beautifully drawn woman on the fringes hanging with a man among the outcasts, and John M. Floyd, whose "Pit Stop" is a solid whodunit about a man stalking women on a Mississippi highway after dark.
Two newcomers mentioned by Franklin in his introduction are Jimmy Cajoleas and Dominiqua Dickey. Cajoleas, in "Lord of Madison County," takes the reader through a pot-headed and mayhem-filled joy ride of teenage sex and parental crackup. Dickey, in "God's Gonna Trouble the Water," more slowly tells a tale of race, family and sexual attraction that builds suspense as a storm grows on the horizon.
While the selections may be a mixed bag, overall they are a devilishly wrought introduction to writers with a feel for Mississippi who are pursuing lonely, haunting paths of the imagination.