Scott McClanahan’s Hill William: Technology and the Southern Gothic

Robert Rea sees a new kind of Southern literary style in the Scott McClanahan's novel Hill William.

Whereas Faulkner’s interminable, convoluted prose requires a refresher course from Strunk and White, McClanahan writes short, clipped sentences and employs rapid cut-aways to jump from scene to scene. Each chapter is further subdivided into bite-sized, easily digestible snippets. His compressed aesthetic speaks to our cotemporary moment in which, more and more, we read in pieces. Digital media are broken up into hyperlinks, ads, embedded videos, and other interactive ways of reading. It’s no coincidence that none of McClanahan’s books exceed 200 pages.


While McClanahan's sentences differ from Faulkner's, there seems to be something else going on in Hill William as well, a phenomenon that isn't specifically Southern: changes in the representation of the self in the digital age. In this novel McClanahan looks at his pre-Internet self from the point of view of Internet culture. What makes this project so Gothic is that McClanahan's setting is the furthest extreme from digital technology. His characters inhabit a West Virginia town clinging precariously to the side of a hill, praying to God they don't slide down the mountain and vanish completely into nature. 

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