The Gone Deadby Published 25 Jun 2019
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An electrifying first novel from “a riveting new voice in American fiction” (George Saunders): A young woman returns to her childhood home in the American South and uncovers secrets about her father’s life and death
Billie James’s inheritance isn’t much: a little money and a shack in the Mississippi Delta. The house once belonged to her father, a renowned black poet who died unexpectedly when Billie was four years old. Though Billie was there when the accident happened, she has no memory of that day—and she hasn’t been back to the South since.
Thirty years later, Billie returns, but her father’s home is unnervingly secluded; her only neighbors are the McGees, the family whose history has been entangled with hers since the days of slavery. As Billie encounters the locals, she hears a strange rumor: that she herself went missing on the day her father died. As the mystery intensifies, she finds out that this forgotten piece of her past could put her in danger.
Inventive, gritty, and openhearted, The Gone Dead is an astonishing debut novel about race, justice, and memory that lays bare the long-concealed wounds of a family and a country.
The Gone Dead Reviews
Chanelle Benz is a literary acrobat. Her writing style can be blunt or flowery. The prose flowed beautifully and this book was perfectly paced, quick to read, easy to understand, while still playing with words and colloquialism.
Knowing Benz from her short fiction, I had no idea for about half the book which way things were going to go. But then it got predictable. The final half of the book, the reader knows what happened, can easily guess what is going to happen, but I believe this is the point of the book. Benz is discussing racism in the deep south. It is something predictable that hasn't changed much for so many years. The payoff of the book is not the event or discovery of the event, but something a bit more deeper-seated, a new realization.
Benz is discussing people struggling with where they came from and ever returning back to. This is not a trite tale of white people hurting black people. It is a story that researches how we deal with the injustices and hate of the past and the present, and how we approach the future.
A debut novel of history and family in the Mississippi delta. Billie, her father found dead in what was called an accident when she was four, returns to the Delta in what she hopes is a short visit. Her mother recently gone as well, she wants to see, what is basically little more than a shack and to visit her uncle, her father's much young brother. She finds more than she expected and finds herself the target of those who do not want the truth of her father's death to be revealed.
I'm not a big fan of stories that use multiple viewpoints within, often feeling that characterization is lost. Here though it works, Billie our main narrator, but also others that fill in the blanks from what she was too young to remember. The Delta is portrayed with depth and authenticity, firmly entrenching this story in time and place. A time of racial injustice and when recurring racism was the norm.
The dialogue is another strong point, fitting each character with admirable efficiency. As each layer is peeled away, new revelations are revealed, the danger Billie is in heightens. This is, in my opinion, a wonderful first effort by a talented new writer.
ARC from Netgalley.
The Southern mystery with a strong sense of place is not a new genre, but it is a mostly white one. It's wonderful to see Chanelle Benz join the field with THE GONE DEAD, which feels like it belongs with other Mississippi-set modern work from writers like Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon. Most would probably classify this as a "literary" crime novel, it has a slow pace and no big payoff, but once you get past the first few chapters it's quite addictive.
Billie James had an unusual childhood, taken from place to place by her white mother. Her black father was a poet who died when Billie was a toddler, after her parents had already split up. After her mother's death, Billie finds herself the newest owner of her father's old "house" in Mississippi. She decides to take a break from her life in Philadelphia to move in and get to know the place. But early on she learns that her father's past there is full of questions she didn't know existed. His death, it turns out, was under suspicious circumstances no one will talk about. And soon Billie hears that she herself was there when it happened and was missing for a time.
The novel grows as it expands into a multiple point-of-view story, with both insiders and outsiders, black and white, taking their part in Billie's search for the truth. I enjoyed the ability of the book (and the always-fabulous audiobook reader Bahni Turpin!) to present a variety of voices that felt very distinct, quite rare for a first novel. The climax is rushed and it feels as though several threads are left hanging, but I loved the sense of place and history Benz brought to the story and I'd love to see more from her and more crime novels like this one.
Read the whole thing in a day because I couldn't put it down. This is a literary mystery set in Mississippi about a woman who returns to her father's hometown to find out the truth about his death. Officially it was ruled an accident, but the reaction of locals (including her own family members) as she investigates makes it clear there's more to the story. I was totally sucked in--so atmospheric, I could practically feel the sticky heat of the South as I read.
If Jesmyn Ward and Gillian Flynn came together on a novel, it would surely look like this.
In Chanelle Benz's debut novel, The Gone Dead, one biracial woman's return to the Mississippi Delta threatens to unearth secrets of her father’s life and death which have long since been buried by a community wounded by racism. As the novel progresses, Benz proves just how little we've come in the way of siding with solidarity over inequality, and no one learns this lesson more than our poor protagonist, Billie James, who can’t seem to find peace from the minute she steps foot in her miasmal hometown. No peace in her own family, none in the once-reliable confidence of her white neighbors, nor in the embrace of the white man who becomes her lover and greatest letdown.
As if the random acts of terror weren’t warning enough, no one is happy to see Billie back in town after all these years. “Let it go,” everyone insists. “Go home. It’s not safe for you here.” But why? Benz answers this with a novel so profoundly shrouded in hatred and grief that seems more prevalent now than ever before.
This book struck such a chord with me because, much like Billie, I have always struggled with trust. Like her, I’ve wrongfully accused close ones of dishonesty and have broken the hearts of such well-meaning friends purely out of fear. But imagine how much our anxiety is multiplied in a world where so many want people like me dead. Now imagine how taxing it must be to weed out the outliers. Who can you run to, really? Where? This is the resolute terror which refuses to let us go, and becomes the essential haunt that made Benz's first turn virtually impossible to put down.
(Thanks, Ecco, for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!)
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