When I first picked up Southern Fate I thought because the author was an attorney it was just another legal thriller, but the opening didn’t neatly fit into the thriller formula. I read on thinking perhaps it was a mystery but the first body didn’t show up until Chapter 9. Obviously not a mystery, so I read on and suddenly it swept me up and blew me away like a hurricane. The genre was literary and quintessentially Southern with elements of both mystery and thriller. The novel centers on the inner story of a South Carolina attorney Frank Rhodes and the journey to his fate and fortune.
Introduced as a rather pathetic character Frank Rhodes is an accident prone klutz and a mediocre lawyer whose only passion is hunting and fishing. The only thing making him worthy of attention is his extreme good looks. Suddenly things change for Frank in a big way when he lands a windfall judgment instantly propelling him into the national spotlight. On the road to money and fame he soon learns the bad news his wife is leaving him for another women. And things get complicated quickly when a serial arsonists plaguing the city with one of the first victims being a member of Frank’s non-traditional family. Meanwhile his brother teaches him an unorthodox method on how to get develop rhythm to thereby overcome his clumsiness, a lifelong affliction.
There is much going on in Southern Fate with numerous subplots. The book is full unexpected plot twists and Boger takes the reader into areas past traditional Southern writers feared to tread. He incorporates several popular motifs commonly found in Southern literature including sense of family and sense of place. However we see some newer motifs developing. For example the non-traditional family and same sex relationships. At a young age Frank’s father was killed by a burglar. His mother and another single windowed mother with a son of similar age merged households to form a non-traditional family headed by two women. While these women are heterosexual another non-traditional family with young children taking root when Frank’s wife leaves him for her same sex lover with young children. These types of non-traditional modern family models are uncommon in traditional Southern literature but realistically capture today’s society. Lesbian relationships have rarely been openly presented in such openly fashion and again capturing the dynamics of today’s modern families.
Another traditional motif is the sense of place. Southerners are exceedingly proud of their region and as social historian Carl N. Degler once described the South as a region “where roots, place, family and tradition are the essence of identity”. All of which are apparent in Southern Fate which in this jet age moves from Columbia to Charleston, New York, the Bahamas and Costa Rica. However, make no mistake the stories beginning, middle, and end are deeply rooted in Columbia, and Boger does not spare the details of Columbia’s rich Civil War history recounting the tales of Sherman’s march. Indeed the ghost of the War against Northern Aggression and the horrors Columbia faced under Sherman conjures up a deus ex machina villain the serial arsonist. Like Bo Radley suddenly arriving on the scene and not a moment too soon.
This is perhaps the books one major shortcoming. We never get to know the villain or his motivations only that he has targeted women belonging to the Daughters of the Confederacy in the name of Sherman. There are no red herrings or clues to suggest anything about the character and his motivations. The villain emerges in the end and disappears in a puff of fire and flames. As a reader in the end I was left frustrated with too many questions as was Frank. Perhaps this was the author’s intent.
As social issues and politics evolve with time so does a society’s literature, and Southern Fate stands as an exemplary work of modern Southern literature. The author is a practicing attorney, the father of three. He and his wife live in Columbia where he studied law. He also holds a degree in English from the University of Virginia. Brian Boger pushes the boundaries and thereby expands the conventional motifs placing him among the vanguard of new Southern writers.
I would dare suggest being on the future lookout for Brian Boger. He expects to release his second title in 2014. When asked about the project, he says “the working title is Champagne Friday. It's another legal thriller type book with some (surprise) literary themes like loss, redemption, vindication, and young men leaving their Bacchanalian Rite of Passage behind them for good women. It's a humdinger of a book developing strong female characters appealing to a broader female audience. The women are cool.”
If the women are anything like the men of Southern Fate it should indeed be a humdinger. Southern Fate is an incredibly delightful read, rich with local color and chocked with quirky characters. Boger’s voice and style are a cross between John Gresham and John Brendt. The state capital Columbia might want to get behind their adopted favorite son because Southern Fate could very well do for Columbia what Midnight In the Garden of Good Evil did for Savannah.