Although William Gay’s story collection I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down does not purport to be a thematically unified collection, there are nevertheless a number of reoccurring motifs throughout the collection. Gay owes a stylistic debt to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Like McCarthy, his style at times tends toward the lush, dense, and baroque; however, Gay still manages to accurately depict southern and Appalachian idiom and speech.
Gay’s world of modern Appalachia is a stark world, where happiness is fleeting, and destruction and violence are always lurking just out of sight. The only way his characters can fight off the darkness around them is through their own integrity. In the title story, elderly farmer Abner Meecham has been sent to a nursing home by his son, his house rented out to an enemy of Meecham’s. Determined to stand up for his independence and dignity, Meecham engages in a subtle war, and is even willing to forfeit his life to prove his point.
The chaos that abounds in Gay’s world is even more insidious, however, in its ability to well up inside characters and turn them into their own enemies. In “Standing by Peaceful Waters,” Bender is determined to stop the government from flooding his hereditary farm; yet, in his fight against conformity and his need to maintain his independence, he inadvertently destroys the person who matters most to him, his wife. A husband of thirty-one years, Beasley in “Sugarbaby” shoots his wife’s dog in a moment of violence. Afterward, he so refuses to conform to the rules of modern society that before long he is divorced, in contempt of court, and suddenly an aged fugitive from justice who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep from bending to another’s will.
Ultimately, Gay’s stories offer no answers, but they do demonstrate the importance of recognizing the happiness we do possess before it is lost.