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 Southern Cross the Dog 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.
Southern Cross the Dog is another case where I am awed by the ambition and vision of a debut novelist. I have a feeling you'll be hearing much more from Bill Cheng.