King of Nod: Some Things Never Die by Scott Fad is a moving story that has elements of mystery, the gothic, and human drama. It is also very long and involved, with a memorable cast of characters.
Boo Taylor returns to his hometown of Sweetpatch Island, South Carolina, for his father’s funeral. He also returns to the girl he left behind, as well as ghosts both literal and figurative.
In his debut novel, Fad skillfully combines realism and fantasy in a novel that could stand to become a modern classic, showing flashbacks of Boo’s childhood and encounters with real-world situations. The adopted son of the town’s white physician, Boo experiences firsthand the prejudice and racism around him. Race riots, beatings and school burnings are an everyday part of his young life, making the flashbacks sometimes a hard read.
Realism also defines his relationship with Gussie Dutton, his former girlfriend. A girl from a white-trash family whose brothers who seem a little too close to her, Gussie falls into a mutual love-hate with Boo at age 13 that continues into their young adulthood, when Gussie betrays Boo in college leading to an estrangement that lasts into their thirties. Boo and Gussie’s reunion scenes, when they try to re-consummate their love affair in spite of her husband and children and his girlfriend, are bittersweet and heartfelt.
The supernatural overtones add a layer of fear in the narrative. In Boo’s world, the ghost stories of his childhood come to life - including the Beast, a creature once summoned by a woman who may or may not have been a witch.
Sweetpatch is haunted by the ghosts of many people who have been brutally murdered, such as Solomon Goody, a young man whose death may have come about during a hate crime. Then there is the mysterious Laylee Cornbriar, a surrogate mother of Boo’s who has some unusual abilities and an odd connection to the folklore of the past.
King of Nod works well in its mysteries, but some are never resolved, others are brought up but their resolutions leave the reader confused. What is the connection between Boo’s current girlfriend and the town pedophile? What is the significance of Boo’s biological parents? Fad’s book could have done with further editing and some clarification about certain points.
Despite those editing flaws, King of Nod: Some Things Never Die packs enough scares and realism to be considered one of the best Southern gothic novels.