The Enduring Lure of Southern Fiction

Lauren K. Denton makes her debut this month with The Hideaway (Thomas Nelson), a novel set in the South that explores the bittersweet nature of love lost, then found again. Denton lives in Alabama with her husband and two children.

photo: Angie Davis

In the South, we tell stories--those we make up and others that have been passed down through generations--about the people, places, struggles and beliefs that shape our corner of the world. It seems every few years, one of these comes along and knocks everyone on their backs. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Prince of Tides. The Secret Life of Bees. The Help. These books have a reach that extends far past the southern landscape in which they're set. I've often wondered what it is that binds southern stories together and why so many people, no matter where they live, love to immerse themselves in our stories as if they were their own.

The definition of southern fiction has fluctuated over the years, but the major elements remain the same: the priority of family, the closeness of community, struggles over race, the abiding allure of religion. Even for those not born and raised in the South, these themes tend to resonate in some capacity, and often a deep one. Not all southern novels manage to squeeze in every theme--although some do--but I'd wager at least a couple of these elements are present in every piece of southern fiction ever written. Hearing the joys and struggles of other lives, especially lives that take place in this steamy cauldron of hope and hurt, helps us navigate our own.

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