“End Times” by John Williams


Southern Literary Review’s Associate Editor Dawn Major met the author of End Times,  John Williams, through Reinhardt University’s Etowah Valley MFA Writing Program. Williams was Major’s critical thesis adviser, and he offered her an enormous amount of support and guidance while she wrote her critical thesis about the work of the late author, William Gay. He also mentored her while she was writing her first novel, The Bystanders. They have remained friends ever since and she is thrilled to introduce End Times to Southern Literary Review’s readers.

Between being extremely active in the Southern writing community, co-writing and locally producing plays, publishing short stories, essays, and reviews, teaching and supporting his mentees, Williams somehow has managed to find the time to author his novel, End Times.

End Times is about many things, but mostly about the struggle of the good in people in a very bad world with an otherworldly undercurrent.

 About End Times:

In John Williams’s mystical dark comedy, End Times, Jon Karl and Summer Odom, brother and sister soulmates, are orphaned and thrust into the human comedy of the small Southern town of Douvale. The two must survive a slew of predators, but specifically the local barber, Balch, known as Barber Balch, who develops an unhealthy obsession for Jon Karl.

After the death of their mother, Maryrell Odom, Jon Karl and Summer move into the home of their great-grandmother, Mildra Odom. With the help of Mildra’s boss, Spruill Dawes, who takes on the role of surrogate father, she raises her great-grandchildren. In Spruill’s son, Millard Dawes, Jon Karl discovers a friend and a brother.

As the siblings grow up, Summer ends up working strange jobs and attracting a series of ill-suited oddball boys while sexually precocious Jon Karl finds himself increasingly humiliated by the insatiability of the town’s women. Though Jon Karl mythologizes women from his past who he likes to think may have actually loved him, he yearns for the life of a hermit.

Complications arise when Jon Karl catches the eye of Vance, a young strip club owner and porn filmmaker. When Jon Karl gets into an ill-advised cannabis-growing scheme, he leaves himself vulnerable to blackmail by Vance. Things get worse for Jon Karl when he is sentenced to the for-profit Baptist correction center, Glorious Light Turnaround Center, run by Spruill’s hated rival, Pruet Echols, and Balch, who has wangled a job there. Balch abducts Jon Karl, driving Summer to realize a surprising inner strength that changes their lives.

Summer’s keen intuition propels her into a daring rescue of Jon Karl, along with Spruill and the town’s sheriff, Ulmer Cubbage. Jon Karl is finally freed to pursue the life he longs for but becomes increasingly seduced by the strange energy of an abandoned roadside house and the oddly familiar portal it appears to offer. Summer, who has inherited her mother’s “sixth sense,” can feel Jon Karl’s absorption in something she’s not ready to understand. With the legacy of a young son from one of her earlier boyfriends, and at last a promising relationship with her latest, she survives.

Lastly, running commentary is provided throughout the novel by local observer and uncensored sage, Redwine Pyle, who befriends Jon Karl. His earthy take on the craziness around him isn’t always politically or socially proper, but never less than lewdly honest.

What to expect from End Times:

In the afternoons she got into the habit of taking Jon Karl on walks in the stroller to the park a couple of streets over where the mill kids had grown up playing but now the mill was closed and the place was weedy and worse for the wear but still had an old ballfield with a backstop, some swings and monkey bars, and a bench or two and was nice and shady—even if jacked-up trucks parked in formation on one of the corners sometimes where there were no trees, like they were bluebirds that needed to see all around, and sat there with their doors open while their young owners stood around doing whatever they did, which to Maryrell didn’t look like much.

[Redwine] owed his nickname not to his love for red wine, but the opposite. The one and only time he had tasted it, at nineteen, he had made the mistake of thinking you could drink it like Kool-Aid and pulled an empty-stomach all-nighter. He was cracking his fifth bottle as the sun came up. He got sick, very sick, and wanted to die. The hangover lasted three days, during which he wanted not to live—a slight improvement.

Muttering something about “that snake,” Daydream, their just down the road neighbor, came over to help the poor girl, which, at nineteen, Maryrell was, but nobody was surprised when not long before she died she met Cleetha Till and Cleetha smiled like she was somebody she had known all her life, and called her an “old soul.” Not even Cleetha herself knew if there was such a thing, but you knew what she meant.

 I’ve heard it suggested they were faking mental illness to get out of working, but everybody knew they didn’t need to fake it.


About John Williams:

 Dr. John Williams is currently a mentor in the Reinhardt University MFA Creative Writing program. He was named Georgia Author of the Year for First Novel in 2002 for Lake Moon (Mercer UP). He has written and co-written numerous plays, with several local productions, and published a variety of stories, essays, and reviews through the years. He and co-author Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s play Hiram: Becoming Hank, about the formative years of singer Hank Williams, enjoyed several productions, most recently at the Monroe County, Alabama courthouse in April 2021. His most recent books are Village People: Sketches of Auburn (Solomon and George 2016), and Atlanta Pop in the 50s, 60s, and 70s: The Magic of Bill Lowery, co-authored with Andy Lee White (The History Press 2019), and Monroeville and the Stage Production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (The History Press 2023). His novel, End Times, will be published by the Sartoris Literary Group in September 2023. Other publications can be found on his website at johnmwilliams.net, which hosts his blog, johnmwilliams.net/blog. He live in LaGrange, Georgia.


  1. Thom Botsford says

    I read “End Times” twice—first to enjoy it and then to “interpret” or better understand it. It’s a remarkable book. If I were planning a discussion, I would ask how to apply the title to the events in the novel. In what way are the “end times” suggested by the plot, characters and setting? Also, what are we to make of Barber Balch? Of all the characters, Balch is the hardest for me to imagine. Not saying that folks like Balch don’t exist, just that they seem to occur more on “Special Victims Unit” than in everyday life. Nonetheless , the book was sheet pleasure to read—twice! I sent several copies to friends.

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