Southern Cross the Dog

Southern Cross the Dog

3.9 10
by Bill Cheng
     
 

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In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog is an epic literary debut in which the bonds between three childhood friends are upended by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. In its aftermath, one young man must choose between the lure of the future and the claims of the past.
 
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Overview

In the tradition of Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O’Connor, Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog is an epic literary debut in which the bonds between three childhood friends are upended by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. In its aftermath, one young man must choose between the lure of the future and the claims of the past.
 
Having lost virtually everything in the fearsome storm—home, family, first love—Robert Chatham embarks on an odyssey that takes him through the deep South, from the desperation of a refugee camp to the fiery and raucous brothel Hotel Beau-Miel and into the Mississippi hinterland, where he joins a crew hired to clear the swamp and build a dam.

Along his journey he encounters piano-playing hustlers, ne’er-do-well Klansmen, well-intentioned whores, and a family of fur trappers, the L’Etangs, whose very existence is threatened by the swamp-clearing around them. The L’Etang brothers are fierce and wild but there is something soft about their cousin Frankie, possibly the only woman capable of penetrating Robert’s darkest places and overturning his conviction that he’s marked by the devil.

Teeming with language that renders both the savage beauty and complex humanity of our shared past, Southern Cross the Dog is a tour de force that heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Charged with a swampy sense of foreboding, Cheng’s debut novel is set in the early 20th century, in a mythic South populated by leather-clad backwoodsmen, a kind madam, and a barrelhouse piano player with a “mojo bag.” Robert Lee Chatham, survivor of a massive flood, grows up working in a brothel. A fall off a roof brings him into contact with bluesman Eli Cutter, who warns, “Bad and trouble is set to follow you through this earth.” As an adult, Robert works on a swamp “dig crew” until the day he impulsively jumps into a river and is swept away. He’s rescued by a family of feral swamp trappers, only to be abused until he nearly dies. Eventually he’s able to slit the throat of one of his captors and flee, ending up in a small town where he reunites with childhood friends Dora and G.D. The three form a happy family of sorts, yet Robert still feels himself slipping into “that place of lost and losing.” With its evocative settings and rich McCarthyesque language, this Southern gothic packs a punch like a mean drunk. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (May)
Edward J. Jones
“Lush and so very often poetic. . . . Southern Cross the Dog has large and small echoes of masterful works, but we should not make any mistake—Cheng has carved out his own creative and accomplished path.”
Booklist (starring review)
“[A] brooding, spine-chilling southern odyssey. . . . Bold and piercing. . . . [Cheng’s] darkly rhapsodic language is so imaginative and highly charged that each word seems newly forged.”
Library Journal
Cheng, an author raised in Queens who lives in Brooklyn, NY, debuts with a novel in the great Southern tradition; think Cormac McCarthy or a 21st-century Faulkner. The story centers on Robert Chatham, a star-crossed African American whose games and first kiss are interrupted by the Mississippi flood of 1927. From the Hollandale refugee camp, Robert is hired as an errand boy at the Beau-Miel Hotel, a surreal brothel burned to the ground by a drunken music promoter. Robert then works as a WPA dynamiter, clearing swamps in rural Mississippi. Later, as an almost-prisoner of a family of feral trappers, the L'Etangs, he becomes involved with the group's lone female member, Frankie. When Robert leaves the L'Etangs, he faces a choice between escaping to the north with Frankie, who herself escaped the swamps, or remaining where he is with the mostly-mad Dora, his first kiss. Curious about the odd title? Wait until the last page. VERDICT This book is a winner for lovers of plot; tough, lyrical writing; history; and the trials of the deep South. [See Prepub Alert, 12/12.]—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A wildly ambitious debut novel--vividly imagined, frequently poetic--conjuring the Southern Delta of the first half of the 20th century as a fever dream, steeped in the blues. One of the most frightening songs by the bluesman Robert Johnson is "Hellhound on My Trail." This narrative suggests an elaboration of Johnson's classic, extended to novel length, filtered through Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. The main musician in the story is a barrelhouse piano player and voodoo shaman, peripheral to the narrative as a whole but pivotal to the life of protagonist Robert Chatham, a boyhood survivor of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. "Houses rose up, bobbled, then smashed together like eggshells. Homes bled out their insides--bureaus, bathtubs, drawers, gramophones--before folding into themselves. The people scrambled up on their roofs, up trees, clinging to one another. The water blew them from their perches, swept them into the drift, smashed them against the debris." Through hopscotching chronology, the plot follows Robert from the apocalyptic flood through a devastating stint as the ward of a bordello (where he meets the piano player who introduces him to both the titular dog and the devil), through his adult years as an itinerant laborer, working to clear the land for a dam that promises "A Shining New South," even as it threatens the livelihood of the backwoods Cajun trappers who give Robert's path another detour. The author's virtuosity occasionally gets the best of him, as when he has Robert's not very reflective or sophisticated father remarking on an evening that finds "everything singing out the great mystery of the world" (which fits thematically but sounds more like a young novelist with an MFA). There are also passages that verge on Faulkner Lite: "The one truth God has ever given to a man. And it's that the past keeps happening to us." Yet it's hard to resist the sweep of Southern history that the author conjures through the experience of his protagonist, the way he makes the devil as palpably real as the natural world that he pervades, blurring the distinction between dreams and destiny. The title suggests a mysterious piece of Southern folk art, and the novel works a similar magic. Not a perfect novel, but a strong voice and a compelling achievement.
The Washington Post - Carolyn See
…[a] powerful debut…
The New York Times Book Review - Ayana Mathis
…Cheng's characters are finely spun, soulful creatures, and his writing is muscular, evocative and haunting…In passages about the hostile and spooky natural world, or the equally mysterious depths of his characters, Cheng's talent astonishes, and the blues music that so clearly inspired him echoes through the prose.
Boston Globe
“A rich, rollicking debut. . . a phantasmagorical excursion into a world. . . marked by bad moons, evil winds, backwater magic, and hoodoo curses.”
The New Yorker (Briefly Noted review)
“[A] dark, lyrical debut novel… Cheng imbues the landscape with Faulkner-esque poetry. …the prose is arresting.”
Nathan Englander
“Fantastic and beautifully written, Southern Cross the Dog is an epic and bluesy throwdown in the Southern tradition.”
Colum McCann
“An incredibly daring and powerful debut. Not only does Bill Cheng set the language on fire in Southern Cross the Dog, but he creates a whole new territory of story-telling. . . . Cheng, almost literally, writes out of his skin.”
Ravi Howard
“A vibrant world grows from the pages of Southern Cross the Dog and its dynamic mix of language and place. Bill Cheng conjures history with precision and style in his exceptional debut.”
Wall Street Journal
“Scintillating. . . . Unforgettable.”
Booklist (starred review)
“[A] brooding, spine-chilling southern odyssey. . . . Bold and piercing. . . . [Cheng’s] darkly rhapsodic language is so imaginative and highly charged that each word seems newly forged.”
Edward P. Jones
“Lush and so very often poetic. . . . Southern Cross the Dog has large and small echoes of masterful works, but we should not make any mistake—Cheng has carved out his own creative and accomplished path.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062225030
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/07/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
456,108
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Bill Cheng received a BA in creative writing from Baruch College and is a graduate of Hunter College's MFA program. Born and raised in Queens, New York, he currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife. Southern Cross the Dog is his first novel.

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Southern Cross the Dog 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Southern Cross the Dog" by Bill Cheng will sing the blues to those who feel and understand them. It defines all the evil in this world, the human suffering, and life itself. It transcends stereotypes. The writing is mesmerizing. The scenes are haunting and vivid. You feel like you are watching an epic movie; all the voices, all the colors coming alive. They will get under your skin. They will be sealed in you forever. This novel is going to become a classic one day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I picked this up because EW gave it a great grade and I see why. This novel is brilliant. It deals with a lonesome part of Louisana and a way of life, trapping, that is long gone. A beautiful historical novel set in the deep south during the early 1900's. Highly recommended.
NickyCaffey More than 1 year ago
This is a great coming of age story. The writing is crisp and quick. A truly remarkable book.
Jennifer Gray More than 1 year ago
Bought this as a present solely based on the description and it was perfect! He loves it!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im tired of people trying to break us up some people are jerks
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ya....