Jamie Kornegay’s introductory novel, Soil, is a deeply dark, comedic Southern Gothic tale about a rapidly unhinging man by the name of Jay Mize. Taken by the idea of environmental farming, Mize puts all he has into his new farm. Within a year, a Mississippi flood washes Mize’s hopes and obsession away. From there, Mize’s family falls apart, his finances are ruined, and his mental stability is ever weakening.
While set in a very different time and place, Kornegay’s Soil echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Obviously, Jay Gatsby’s obsessions were that of an ideal love of lifestyle, but Jay Mize’s obsessions are equally idealized. Both Jays are seeking the ever-elusive American Dream, which ultimately lead to their downfalls. As a reader, and lover of American literature, I am enraptured by the idea that we, as Americans, are so focused on the fantasy of wealth, of happiness, of success, which we have no hope of attaining. Nearly one hundred years separate these two novels, yet Kornegay relays the same message as Fitzgerald, proving that progress, time, place do not equate to a betterment of society. In fact, it seems this correlation suggests that we are stuck with little to no hope of becoming dislodged from what we have idealized without vastly re-thinking what we value.
Much of Kornegay’s novel portrays the brutality of Earth as well as that of the human psyche, yet I was propelled to continue reading the novel despite its dark nature because of three elements. First, Kornegay’s writing is simply beautiful. It is lyrical in nature and allows the reader to seamlessly flow from one page to the next. Second, Kornegay infused this novel with just enough comedy to keep the reader from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of content. Finally, Kornegay explores truths that, while we may not want to face about the vulnerability of the individual and his nucleus, remain provable and justified. Ultimately, Soil is so deeply rich and holds true to much of the Southern tradition so often experienced in the writing of Faulkner, O’Connor, McCullers and so many others.
The only criticism of Soil that I have is that I didn’t find any of the characters likable. Every character in the book, including Jay Mize, is ultimately unlikable, which sometimes makes it hard to stay invested in the novel, but upon reflection, I think Kornegay’s purpose in writing Soil is founded in the fact that when one becomes so entrenched in an idea, to the point of obsession, he is no longer likable. Yet despite this lack of likability, there is much for the reader to gain from the happenings of Jay Mize.
Ultimately, Jamie Kornegay’s Soil is worth reading. It provides a new take on traditional ideas and brings with it an exploration of how life sometimes beats us up, how we aren’t promised anything, and how the loss of a dream can wreck us. For me, I think that makes Jamie Kornegay’s debut novel a piece to devour.
Review of Jamie Kornegay’s Soil
Pub. Simon & Schuster