Jamie Kornegay booksigning for Soil 

Who is "the new, bold face of Southern literature"? According to a publicist who used those very words, it could be Jamie Kornegay. He runs an independent bookstore, TurnRow Book Company, in Greenwood, Mississippi, but it's Kornegay's debut novel, Soil (Simon & Schuster), that was the talk of the recent American Booksellers Association meeting in North Carolina. That annual meeting has become, according to a recent article in The Washington Post, "an early-warning system for the year's most celebrated titles." Soil was one of those titles, and Kornegay was one of the authors receiving a lot of attention.

Kornegay is in the middle of a book tour throughout the South (including a stop in Memphis on March 18th), and the landscape of the South is something the author knows full well. He's a Southerner himself, he studied creative writing at the University of Mississippi, and he once worked as a bookseller at Square Books in Oxford. His debut novel is set in the South, too: Mississippi's hill country, to be exact.

When Soil opens, flooding has swollen the area's waterways and turned riverbanks knee-deep in muck. That's nothing, though, compared to the unstable state of Jay Mize, an ecologically responsible farmer wrestling not only with the fallout from a failing marriage but with his own mounting paranoia. Now throw in a dead body discovered near Mize's property and add in a dirty-minded deputy sheriff.

There you have the basic setup in Soil, a story that can be, by turns, violent and comic, but it's never far removed from its setting, the Southern landscape, which can be dark and dangerous too. (Care to learn how to dismember and compost a corpse?) All of it, though, is in the tradition of Southern storytelling at its gothic best, and author Tom Franklin said it best when he described (by way of praise) Kornegay's bold literary debut in two words: "kick-ass."

Jamie Kornegay discussing and signing "Soil" on Wednesday, March 18th, at 6 p.m. at story booth (438 N. Cleveland), organized by the Booksellers at Laurelwood.

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