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Southern Cross the Dog Paperback – February 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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*Starred Review* In this novel of narcotic heat, biblical storms, virulent racism, bloodshed, mojo, taboo love, and the hell-bent destruction of a teeming wilderness, Cheng dives deeply into the realm of tall tales and blues. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 casts Cheng’s young characters out into a world of tooth and claw, gun and knife, brutality and enslavement. Lovely Dora is being held captive by a ruthless man who is looting abandoned houses. Robert, who feels hounded and haunted, has endured his brother’s lynching, his mother’s madness, and the misery of a government tent city by the time he ends up working for room and board at a friendly brothel. Eli, a piano player of prodigious skill and a healer of dubious powers, tells Robert that he is “bad crossed” and gives him a pouch to wear to ward off the devil. Robert does miraculously survive harrowing ordeals while working construction on a dam that will bring electricity and full-force capitalism to the South and warring with a savage swamp trapper whose hunter-gatherer existence is doomed. In this brooding, spine-chilling southern odyssey, Cheng’s interpretation of a place of bone-deep suffering and rare flashes of grace is bold and piercing, and his darkly rhapsodic language is so imaginative and highly charged that each word seems newly forged. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062225022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062225023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 7, 2013
Format: 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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Henson on July 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This was a very disappointing read. I had heard so many good things, and this book met none of my expectations. Cheng is able to string words together in a way that sounds stylistic and rhythmic, but he doesn't demonstrate any ability to tell a story. His characters are flat. The biggest problem was the way the story jumped around from one character's point of view to another and also back and forth in time. I have seen this done well, but here it seems to be merely because it's something different. There just didn't seem to be a reason for all the jumping around and it made what little storyline there was even more disjointed. Not recommended.
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24 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Berry on May 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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