I appreciate books that entertain me and require me to think hard about the world we live in. This book did both. Billie James has inherited a small cabin in the Mississippi Delta and a little money along with the mystery of how her famous poet/civil rights activist father died thirty years before. Soon after she and her dog arrive at the cabin, she becomes entangled in her own (lost) memories and begins asking questions that uncover dangerous small town secrets about race, family, and justice. Chanelle Benz writes the Mississippi Delta as a character to be reckoned with in the way Walter Mosley writes about Los Angeles and Attica Locke writes about Texas. If you like mysteries, books set in the south with a Southern Gothic feel, and great writing, this will satisfy your need for a great summer read.
“Billie James travels to the Mississippi Delta from Philly for the first time since her father’s mysterious death, some 30 years before. Although she was there that night, she has no recollection of the events that occurred, but learns later that she went missing afterwards. This new detail causes her to start digging into what really happened, which gets her into trouble with people who want the past to remain buried. An emotional and tense novel about racism, justice, family, and the truth, Benz’s debut has so much edge to it that I could not stop reading!”
— Carl Kranz, The Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
A TONIGHT SHOW SUMMER READS FINALIST
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' 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.
About the Author
Chanelle Benz has published short stories in Guernica, Granta.com, Electric Literature, The American Reader, Fence, and The Cupboard, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. Her story collection The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead was published in 2017 by Ecco. It was named a Best Book of 2017 by the San Francisco Chronicle and one of Electric Literature’s 15 Best Short Story Collections of 2017. It was also longlisted for the 2018 PEN/Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. She currently lives in Memphis, where she teaches at Rhodes College.
“Every chapter in The Gone Dead yields a surprise.... Benz’s Delta is portrayed with care and depth.... Her attention to the recurring nature of racism in this country, and her gift for weaving these insights into a gripping narrative, establish Benz as an adept critic and storyteller.” — New York Times Book Review
“A powerful look at a region constantly haunted by its past.... Benz proved herself to be a master storyteller with her short story collection, and that talent is on full display.... An excellent novel from an author who writes with real grace and a wisdom beyond her years.” — NPR
“[Benz] captures human interaction with the polish of a seasoned dramatist, armed with a bevy of tools — a feel for smooth dialogue; a rich sense of place; a knowledge of history and its impact on individuals, families, and communities — that charge her words with authenticity.... Note-perfect.” — Entertainment Weekly
“The past shadows Billie when she goes back to Mississippi after 30 years to extract the truth from the riddle of her father’s death.... A taut, voltaic novel.” — O, the Oprah Magazine
“[An] extraordinary new novel. ” — Southern Living
“Transports readers to the mucky Mississippi delta, where rising humidity and a few probing questions unearth a long-buried crime.... An examination of racial justice and history— and whose versions are accepted as truth.” — Elle
“Haunting.... The first line of this impressive novel sets the stage for what follows: ‘It is not exactly as she was picturing’.... What follows is an interrogation of memory, race, and the way that stories define our lives.... The novel retains this tension right up to its final pages.“ — Ploughshares
“You can easily read The Gone Dead in a weekend, and you likely will. It grabs hold early with truly compelling characters and a central mystery.... An arresting whodunit, a portrait of an American family, and a Southern narrative that won’t let the past go.” — Chapter 16
“A rich, arresting exploration of racial injustice and the long shadows cast by family legacy.... Propulsive from the outset, culminating in a wrenching final scene.... A beautiful and devastating portrait of the modern South.” — Publishers Weekly
“Beautifully written throughout.... Enthralling.... Recalling Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, this work will appeal to lovers of African American, Southern, and historical fiction.” — Library Journal (starred review)
“Combines brisk plotting and striking characterization to provide a compelling read. . . . Benz proves her virtuosity as a writer. . . . Gripping.” — Booklist
“The southern novel will never be the same after this book. Billie James, the protagonist of The Gone Dead, holds more mystery, lyricism, tragedy, nuance than most characters I’ve read in recent years.... Writers were not supposed to be able to do what Benz does in The Gone Dead.” — Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Chanelle Benz’s prose is remarkable for its acute intelligence, flawless precision, and startling beauty. This wry, soulful novel reads like a thriller but an intimate one; it becomes both a genuine page turner and a deep character study.” — Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others
“Chanelle Benz has the power and grace to make the quiet stunning and the explosive beautiful. The Gone Dead is a wonderous exploration of pain and confrontation of its sources.”
— Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black
“Wise and assured, Chanelle Benz’s The Gone Dead plunges the reader into a fraught and complicated homecoming of sorts, the South you return to after a life away, a place you never really knew.... Benz’s prose is insightful and surprising, chock-full of beautiful sentences that demand re-reading.” — James McLaughlin, author of Bearskin
“I love this novel for many reasons, its fresh look at the hardscrabble Mississippi Delta, its varied voices that form a chorus around its main voice, Billie, and the mystery at its heart.... [The Gone Dead] feels as old and rich as the delta soil on which it happens.” — Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter