Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel

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9780062225009: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel

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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Review:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013: Eight-year-old Robert Chatham has lost everything--friends, family, home--to the fast waters of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. He lights out across the country, a refugee seeking shelter with (and from) a Homer-esque cast of misfits, hucksters, and ne’er-do-wells: the ladies of a “hotel” of ill repute; a piano player whose talent for the blues matches his seemingly supernatural powers of healing; a close-knit clan of trappers, living in a swampland itself marked for flood behind the wall of a WPA dam. Wherever he finds himself, Robert is gripped and propelled by his fear of a devil closing in behind him. The book’s lineage is clear--the ghosts of O’Connor and Faulkner stalk these pages--but pigeonholing Bill Cheng’s remarkable debut as a Southern Gothic shortchanges the power and originality of its language, the artfulness of its voice. Cheng has written a Bildungsroman of the South, a tale of a country submerged again and again--literally and otherwise--under the high tides of the 20th century. --Jon Foro

From the Back Cover:

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.

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