Bret Lott is not a Charleston native. He knows that owning a house in Hanahan for more than 25 years still doesn’t make him “from ’round here” by South Carolina standards. His early years in California excludes him from that club.
That’s one reason he likes Huger, the protagonist in his successful novel, The Hunt Club. (That’s pronounced you-gee, for those that haven’t taken a trip South of Broad lately.) Although Huger did grow up on the marshes and swamps of the Lowcountry, it still wasn’t enough to make him a card-carrying member of Charleston society. A trailer on a piece of land out in the country doesn’t normally get someone into the country club scene, even if it’s home to someone as special as Unc, Huger’s father.
That’s where Lott’s much-anticipated sequel, Dead Low Tide, starts off. Unc has sold the lot out at Hungry Neck, and the family has moved to Landgrave Hall, an exclusive community out on Goose Creek. Despite their sudden wealth, the family still lacks the desired pedigree of the blue-blooded Charlestonians who live there.
“He is never going to be on the inside,” Lott says. “He’s always going to be on the outside looking in, and he knows it.”
Huger is now 27, has failed out of the University of North Carolina, and is living at home. He spends his days carting his blind father to appointments and Thursday night poker games. And on occasion, the two sneak out to the golf course in Landgrave late at night so Unc can hit a few golf balls.
The duo is starting out on one of their late-night golf escapades at the beginning of Dead Low Tide — guiding a John boat through the shallow creek of Landgrave to the ninth hole by the Dupont house. But instead of ending with a reprimand from the security guards, the night takes a bizarre turn: The two uncover a body tied to a cinder block at the bottom of the creek. They are soon greeted by every branch of local law enforcement, including the Navy, which owns land on the opposite side of the narrow waterway.
The juxtaposition of the Navy’s presence in Charleston with small enclaves, like a real-life Landgrave Hall nestled nearby, played a big part in Lott’s inspiration for the novel. The irony struck him while kayaking with his wife past Yeamans Hall on Goose Creek one afternoon. “I really thought these two characters, Huger and Unc, were just haunting and I suddenly thought, what if Huger was living here. The Naval Weapons Station is right here. The Naval Brig is right there.”
The proximity of the secluded areas and people who seem content excluding the outside world, along with the inner workings of the Navy, is a defining element of the book. As are the cultural undertones, highlighted by Huger’s first-person accounts and Unc’s gruff dialogue. Lott portrays Huger’s dialect by including grammatical mistakes that make the novel read as if Huger was speaking directly to readers.
This style of realism explains other word choices Lott has made in his writing, particularly the use of profanity. “The kind of writing I do is reality-based writing and I want to be as real as possible. And that is real,” he says.
In 2010, parents of a Wando High School student challenged the inclusion of The Hunt Club as an option for required summer reading because of Lott’s use of profanity and adult themes. The board scheduled a hearing, and in November, members unanimously agreed to keep the book on the reading list.
Lott fully defends his choices as necessary literary devices. “I really weigh those things out and think about those things,” he says.
Lott did see a bright side in the hearing, however: parents were arguing about a book. “They really believe that a book makes a difference,” he says. “We’re in a day when people don’t think books matter. For that reason I applaud them because they were taking a book seriously, they were saying, ‘We believe books make a difference,’ and in this day and age, there aren’t enough people who say that.”