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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SOUTHERN CROSS THE DOG is surprising and mysterious, tormenting and tortuous, and continuously unpredictable
SOUTHERN CROSS THE DOG is a debut centering on the Great Flood of 1927 along the Mississippi, a tragedy that killed 246 people and left countless families homeless. The flood led to the great migration of African American families toward other states, and Bill Cheng's first novel hones in on one fictional family whose experiences seem to represent an endless cycle of...
Published 14 months ago by Bookreporter

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh.....
I am an avid Amazon surfer for books. I check the Book of the Month section every month, to see what is new out there. This time I came across Southern Cross the Dog, a debut novel by Bill Cheng.
The synopsis grabbed me, a Great Depression story, which is a time period that greatly interests me, so I was ready to be in for a treat.
This novel just did not do it...
Published 14 months ago by Christopher Berry


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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SOUTHERN CROSS THE DOG is surprising and mysterious, tormenting and tortuous, and continuously unpredictable, May 21, 2013
By 
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
SOUTHERN CROSS THE DOG is a debut centering on the Great Flood of 1927 along the Mississippi, a tragedy that killed 246 people and left countless families homeless. The flood led to the great migration of African American families toward other states, and Bill Cheng's first novel hones in on one fictional family whose experiences seem to represent an endless cycle of grief and loss.

The central character is a young man named Robert Chatham, who began with a healthy spirit before a series of striking tragedies become a reality for him --- the flood and racism being the most obvious precipitating events. Robert experiences his first kiss just before the flood hits and then finds himself suddenly losing all of his loved ones along with virtually everyone he knows. He then has to face life alone during an agonizing decade in which he roams endlessly, helpless and aimless, toward death while being forced into frightening adult experiences and witnessing many of the darkest elements of human nature.

The brutalities that take place here seem to come at the hands of perfect strangers, while others do come from Robert's own making or those of his loved ones. Through everything he endures, Robert seems to discover that his deepest scars come from his own mistakes. Hyperaware of his sins and flaws, he becomes a wasted soul in the prime of his life, a twentysomething haunted by the crushing realizations of his useless spirit, filled with despair and awareness of his abandonment.

Forced to grow up on the run, the boy becomes a man who trusts in nothing and believes in nothing. He learns to survive without really living, becoming the captive of unscrupulous humans who seek survival at any cost. Many abuse him, and everyone he meets seems to take advantage of him in some way, however subtle. As he gains many new experiences and meets new people, Robert begins to numbly attempt to understand where all his pain is coming from and to see it all in an external form.

Without hope, he wanders through life in a refugee camp at a hotel, as the slave of a dangerous family of trappers who haunt the Mississippi swamps, a worker in a whorehouse where he temporarily finds the compassion and affection of prostitutes. Everywhere Robert seems to be doing nothing but filling his day. Everywhere he turns, there is crime and exploitation, and eventually death. Death alone Robert cannot escape, and he begins to see the source of all evil as the dark side of his own nature --- a devil who torments him.

Robert's fears haunt him increasingly in the form of a "dog" until he becomes convinced that he's being followed by a malicious split of his own soul. His perceptions are made real because of his beliefs in the power of voodoo and his own deeply hidden feelings of inadequacy. Throughout his travels, readers question the reality of this dog, whether it is in fact a product of a twisted psychology or a tangible creature. The question of reality versus split psychology grows increasingly blurred and difficult to discern once the boy becomes a man and finds himself both the victim and the tormentor, while his every fear takes on a life of its own and makes reality impossible to see clearly.

SOUTHERN CROSS THE DOG is a gritty novel with a decidedly dark literary quality, surprising and mysterious, tormenting and tortuous, and continuously unpredictable. Though somber overall, it is also thoughtful and artistic, seemingly filled with opaque meanings and bitter ironies, and nowhere is the reader spared the blatant truths of the time. This is a book that forces one to consider many uncomfortable truths and to think about the subtlety of the themes. It comes off as a mystical, engrossing read meant for hardy enthusiasts of dark literature with a historical bent.

Reviewed by Melanie Smith
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I turned away and left our one living son in a cold, dark field.", May 7, 2013
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
In a novel burdened by loss and sorrow, Cheng remarkably inhabits the experiences of his characters, beginning with a family torn apart by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Their older boy already claimed by a vindictive world, Ellis and Etta Chatham leave their shabby home amid rising floodwaters, eventually delivered to Camp Mercy, where the grief-stricken Etta, her mind broken since the death of her son, is indifferent to further humiliation. Desperate, Ellis offers eight-year-old Robert to Miss Lucy, owner of a local hotel/bawdy house, where the boy will at least be sheltered and fed: "I turned away and left our one living son in a cold, dark field." Robert Chatham endures- he doesn't thrive- but he grows, haunted by dreams of a black dog that pursues him, isolated by circumstances and temperament, courting death in his heart from the time of the flood.

Cheng's characters are stereotypical at times, white and black, like Eli Cutter, who coaxes pain and passion from a keyboard ("his boxful of souls"), a drunk and a womanizer with the scars of hard living to mark his passage through the world; Augustus Duke sees himself as the driving force behind Cutter's future success on the circuit, covets the ease of a gifted man; Dora, who first introduces young Robert to the magic of a kiss in a childhood game, is swept up by the flood and its consequences; George Burke, an engineer, has his eye on the future and the promise of the reshaping of the Mississippi, harboring a prescient concern for those caught in the undertow of progress: and Francine, from a trio of trappers soon to be separated from their livelihood, who sees in Robert a kindred spirit. In a world that has not offered him a place to rest, Robert plunges from one environment to another, yet remains apart, crippled by events over which he has no control.

Though grief and despair shadow the entire novel, the stark images of rising water, drowned animals and rampant devastation define the final chapters, individual characters' revelations lending context to a landscape of broken lives and limited choices. In fact, Cheng uses the passage of time as a vehicle for his plot development, from 1927 to 1932 and 1941, experiences more relevant than sequential. There is no joy in this story, no relief, only an awareness of the toll on those too insignificant to hinder progress. The drama is unrelenting, the blunt force trauma of conditions suffered by the innocent, whose only crime is that they don't matter. Sorrow breeds in dark places, Robert's share limned with troubles, yet only one narrative among many. A complex man, child of his mother's heart, Robert balances over a chasm, the past calling him, while the future hovers, remains elusive. Luan Gaines/2013.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic new voice in Southern fiction, May 7, 2013
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
After losing everything in the Great Flood of 1927, Robert Lee Chatham ventures throughout the Deep South, settling in brothels, swamps and labor camps. His life is changed when he meets a blues piano player who teaches him to keep his evil contained. Still, wherever his journey carries him, Robert refuses to abandon his belief that the devil is close behind, marking him for death since childhood.

The world Bill Cheng has created in this novel is incredibly well developed, which is quite a feat considering its size. Spanning over a decade and dozens of locations, readers are shown a gritty, beautifully visualized landscape. Though Robert's travels jump back and forth in time and place, the imagery makes location an easy mark.

I started smiling when I read the first few lines of the prologue to Southern Cross the Dog and was almost giggling over how good it was by its end. It is Cheng's way of raising a flag, letting readers know that he has entered the genre. I imagine you'll see few reviews of the book that don't at least mention William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor, as Cheng has written a novel that almost seamlessly fits into the Southern Gothic canon. Yet, somehow, he's branded the work with a style that feels uniquely modern - much like poppy, vibrant colors on the cover of a rather haunting story.

(I was provided an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh....., May 21, 2013
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This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
I am an avid Amazon surfer for books. I check the Book of the Month section every month, to see what is new out there. This time I came across Southern Cross the Dog, a debut novel by Bill Cheng.
The synopsis grabbed me, a Great Depression story, which is a time period that greatly interests me, so I was ready to be in for a treat.
This novel just did not do it for me. I was disappointed because the story did not leave me wanting to really know more about the characters. I felt cheated. I did not feel for anyone, for the character development is very lacking. It is like you are thrown into this story, without any real background on the characters. I like depth in a story, this one just did not have it. In researching this book, unfortunately, after I started reading, I found out that Mr Cheng has never been to the Deep South before. What? I think that this novel would have been better if it were written by someone else, someone who knew the landscape, the people. I hope that if Mr Cheng decides to write another novel, do it about something he has experienced. Thank you to Amazon for showcasing it, it just was not for me. Bummer!

Christopher Berry
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Just Don't Get It, August 13, 2013
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
I've read many of the reviews, including those on the dust jacket. They talk about Mr. Cheng's new, authentic voice, how he captures the South, etc. There are some very good descriptions and passages in the book; in fact, the section entitled "Etta" is wonderful and, on a standalone basis, would probably merit more stars. However, that's a very short section, and for the most part the rest of the book strikes me as Mr. Cheng's first attempt at being "Literary" (and the capital L is by design) with all that implies. In other words, it's pretentious. There's also not much of a plot, and why the lead character (not a "hero") ends up where and with whom he ends up seems as much a product of a lack of imagination on the part of the author as anything else.

When I read a book like this - i.e., one that I don't get - I often assume it's because (or primarily because) at the end of the day I'm a white man in his mid-60s who can't possibly understand the plight of a young black man in the South during the first part of the 20th century. But Mr. Cheng is an Asian-American who never even visited the South until after the book's publication. Is it possible that he nonetheless just "gets it" in a way that I don't? Of course, but the odds aren't in his favor, so my usual reaction doesn't seem justified. In other words, maybe I'm entitled to my opinion and that the book just isn't that good.
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Odyssey Through the Savage South, But Lacking an Authentic Voice, May 7, 2013
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This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
In 1927, the Mississippi floods and upends Robert Chatham's life. His parents send him to be a kitchen boy at a cathouse and so begins his journey troubled by a jinx he cannot seem to shake. Robert confronts a chaotic and savage South, filled with racism and rapid change. Robert's life is shaped by a cast of memorable characters: childhood friends, a madame of the cathouse, a peripatetic blues man turned preacher, and a group of creole trappers.

Unfortunately, although Cheng creates a compelling journey, I found the novel to be lacking an authentic voice. I heard an interview with Cheng, a New Yorker, where he admits to having never been to the South. Although he claims to love the blues and obviously did some research, the novel lacks the true, southern voice it needs. I'm no Southerner, but this novel didn't pull me in in the way I imagine it could if written by another author. The "write what you know" mantra can wear thin, but for Cheng, writing his first novel, he probably should have stuck closer to home. Nevertheless, this is a commendable first novel and I am sure he will succeed in writing a great novel in the future.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Blah, October 2, 2013
By 
P. M. (littleton, CO United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have no idea how this book has gotten the rave reviews that it has. The story doesn't ever seem to go anywhere. At no time did I care about any of the main characters in the book, and the book just dragged on and on. The author can write , he writes very poetic and lyrical, but it all seemed like it was an exercise assigned in a creative writing class. The author is an Asian American born and raised in Queens New York, why he felt compelled to write a book about African Americans in the south during the 1920's through 1941, I have no idea.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Southern Cross the Dog" by Bill Cheng will sing the blues to those who feel and understand them., June 6, 2013
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
"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.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply amazing and ambitious debut, September 14, 2013
This review is from: Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is Bill Cheng's debut and I was attracted to it by comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor, two very hard acts to follow especially McCarthy who I rate as one of the greatest living English language authors. This starts with the great Mississippi flood of 1927, we meet Robert Chatham who as a child gets flooded out and barely makes it out with his father and sickly mother. We also meet two of his friends Dora and G.D. who will feature through out despite being separated by that tragic event.

The journey of all especially Robert is fraught with poverty, pain and danger living at a time when America was truly segregated and to be a black person meant you were at the bottom of most pecking orders. Cheng writes in a way that is both economic with the facts yet poetical with the telling. The language echoes a bygone era when the old world of the South was meeting the new world being brought ostensibly by the North. The settings are sometimes bleak and the land seems unforgiving and in a way that is probably a metaphor for life at the time. The attention to detail and research is truly inspiring and I found it an utterly absorbing read. The stories flit though time and places with stories within stories but all coming together in the end.

This is a book where the component parts are often left unended, and we want to know more about what happened to some of the players, but that is what real life is like, we all have friends we have lost touch with and may never know where their road came to a conclusion, this is true of many of the folk we encounter here. Cheng writes with a confidence that one sees all too rarely and is both compelling and poetic at the same time. I can not recommend this book highly enough, truly mesmerising, painting a lost world with words and conjuring up ugliness and cruelty in a way to make you read slack jawed in wonder. I think comparisons to McCarthy and O'Connor are indeed justified and I am now eagerly awaiting his next book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Faulkner on steroids, August 9, 2013
By 
John Doyle (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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Bill Cheng has writing skill but this book is so over-wrought it reminds me of Faulkner on steroids. Too many awful scenes, too much suffering, too much overall angst. Give us a break every once in a while, please.
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Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel
Southern Cross the Dog: A Novel by Bill Cheng (Hardcover - May 7, 2013)
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