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Southern Cross the Dog
by Bill Cheng

Overview -

An epic odyssey in which a young man must choose between the lure of the future and the claims of the past

With clouds looming ominously on the horizon, a group of children play among the roots of the gnarled Bone Tree. Their games will be interrupted by a merciless storm-bringing with it the Great Flood of 1927-but not before Robert Chatham shares his first kiss with the beautiful young Dora.  Read more...


 
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More About Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng
 
 
 
Overview

An epic odyssey in which a young man must choose between the lure of the future and the claims of the past

With clouds looming ominously on the horizon, a group of children play among the roots of the gnarled Bone Tree. Their games will be interrupted by a merciless storm-bringing with it the Great Flood of 1927-but not before Robert Chatham shares his first kiss with the beautiful young Dora. The flood destroys their homes, disperses their families, and wrecks their innocence. But for Robert, a boy whose family has already survived unspeakable pain, that single kiss will sustain him for years to come.

Losing virtually everything in the storm's aftermath, Robert embarks on a journey through the Mississippi hinterland-from a desperate refugee camp to the fiery brothel Hotel Beau-Miel and into the state's fearsome swamp, meeting piano-playing hustlers, well-intentioned whores, and a family of fierce and wild fur trappers along the way. But trouble follows close on his heels, fueling Robert's conviction that he's marked by the devil and nearly destroying his will to survive. And just when he seems to shake off his demons, he's forced to make an impossible choice that will test him as never before.

Teeming with language that voices both the savage beauty and the complex humanity of the American South, Southern Cross the Dog is a tour de force of literary imagination that heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780062225009
  • ISBN-10: 0062225006
  • Publisher: Ecco Press
  • Publish Date: May 2013
  • Page Count: 324


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > African American - Historical

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-03-18
  • Reviewer: Staff

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)

 
BookPage Reviews

Along the mighty Mississippi

In 1927, the Mississippi River broke free of its banks and flooded parts of its namesake state. The flood scattered the river’s neighbors across the Mississippi Delta region, changing the course of their lives but not separating them for good.

Robert Chatham is a child of 8 when the river destroys his home and his family. Five years after the flood, he’s working as an errand boy at the brothel Beau-Miel in Bruce, 100 miles from Issaquena County, unsure of whether his parents survived. As author Bill Cheng writes, Robert is “thirteen years old and already broken.”

Robert comes to realize he’s “bad crossed,” and trouble follows him wherever he goes. Along the way, one of the characters he meets gives Robert a “devil,” a pinch of rock salt, ash and an Indian-head penny to keep in a pouch around his neck. These will keep trouble away, the man says. But if Robert isn’t exactly trouble-free, well, he’s still alive—a fact that seems miraculous at times, as he traipses through the Mississippi Delta and faces a variety of dangers, including a wild river, angry trappers and a burning building. “He could not count the times he’d come so close to death only to be thrown violently again into life,” Cheng writes. Along the way, Robert stumbles upon people from his past, welcome faces and those not so welcome, and tries to evade the trouble that he can’t seem to lose in search of a happier life.

Chinese-American writer Cheng was raised in New York City and, at the time of writing this book, had yet to set foot in the state of Mississippi. Even so, his lyrical storytelling is reminiscent of tales shared on a front porch. The stories dance through time in this nonlinear, epic adventure tale, skipping between 1927, 1932 and 1941. The rambling story covers an awful lot of territory, emotionally and physically—just like life itself.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE
Read a Q&A with Bill Cheng for Southern Cross the Dog.

 
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