(From the publisher’s website)
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.
'An incredibly daring and powerful debut. Not only does Bill Cheng set the language on fire, but he creates a whole new territory of story-telling. One of the great literary enterprises is the ability to understand “otherness,” and Cheng proves masterful in his ability to dwell in another era and place, while still remaining rooted in the landscape of the human heart. Cheng, almost literally, writes out of his skin.' Colum McCann, author of Dancer and Let the Great World Spin
‘Fantastic and beautifully written, Southern Cross the Dog is an epic and bluesy throwdown in the Southern tradition.' Nathan Englander, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.’
'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.’ Ravi Howard, author of Like Trees Walking
'Bill Cheng offers a grand and precious novel that splendidly extends our appreciation for an endlessly complex place in our American world, a place of colorful and unforgettable characters and landscapes both threatening and inviting. His work is lush and so very often poetic (“thunder rolled and stitch by stitch, he could feel the sky unravel”). 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. His novel is a welcome and necessary addition to a society where good and compelling writing and stories are not as easy to find as some may think.’ Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World and All Aunt Hagar’s Children
’Southern Cross the Dog is an authentic, riveting portrait of the Mississippi Delta and its complex worlds. In a series of interlocking stories, Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.’ William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues and founding director of Center for the Study of the American South
Reviews / Previews
Barbara’s Picks, May 2013 from the LibraryJournal
'Even before the library marketing folks at HarperCollins talked up this novel, I was intrigued by the story—twentyish Robert Chatham manages to survive the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 but still thinks he’s cursed, even as he’s pulled between tradition and a bright new future. Cheng is being called a rising literary star, and rumor has it that his feel for the Old South is extraordinary—never mind that he’s not been below the Mason-Dixon Line. Recommended for folks who love Wiley Cash, Ron Rash, and Amanda Coplin, author of the recently published The Orchardist.’
Kirkus Review, Starred Review
“Vividly imagined, frequently poetic… . It’s hard to resist the sweep of Southern history … the way [Cheng] makes the devil as palpably real as the natural world that he pervades… . A strong voice and a compelling achievement.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review [Spoilers]
"Charged with a swampy sense of foreboding, Cheng’s debut novel is set in the early 20th century, in a mythic South…With its evocative settings and rich McCarthyesque language, this Southern gothic packs a punch like a mean drunk."
Off the Shelves, Gainesville Times
“Cheng has crafted a stirring tale that can be spine tingling as a ghostly whisper, and heart pounding as a tide-crashing storm.”
- Summer 2013 Discover Great New Writers Pick by Barnes & Noble