Coleman Dowell’s “Southern Gothic” is a novel about sexual repression. Miss Ethel, a spinster school teacher, decides to write what she calls a “perverse tale” about one of her former students, a Kentucky farmer named Jim Cummins. Endowing him with unnaturally large genitals, she spins a tawdry tale of his frustrated relationship with his petite wife. Expressing all the bitterness of “an old woman’s revenge,” Miss Ethel’s tale is nonetheless a sensitive depiction of rural life in the early years of World War II.
Dowell’s masterful use of the tale-within-a-tale to explore psychological states makes Too Much Flesh and Jabez a memorable achievement.