Chanelle Benz | published: June 2019
Summary from Amazon:
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 Deadis an astonishing debut novel about race, justice, and memory that lays bare the long-concealed wounds of a family and a country.
This plot sets you up for what could be an epic telling of race and relationships in the south, past and present.
In the beginning, it mostly delivers. We meet young Billie James just after her grandmothers death, as she returns to her childhood home in the Mississippi Delta to manage a small inheritance: a home her poet father lived in before he mysteriously died, 30 years prior. She hardly remembers the ‘accident’ but, when she arrives and starts digging through the past the home bares, she starts asking questions of neighbors and family that make everyone, white and black, friend and foe, very uncomfortable.
The first half of the book is interesting and consistent. The story develops at a good pace and the author writes about the Delta beautifully. It’s a joy to meet all the players: dads girlfriend at the time of his death, uncle, cousins and neighbors and town sheriff. I love the way the author writes dialogues between the characters, perfectly capturing the nuisances of southern conversation. Which is to say, the ability of saying one thing but meaning the opposite. (For example, If anyone tells you, ‘bless your heart’, they’ve just said, ‘Your an idiot’. There is no pill you can take or book you could read to fix idiot, so, they’ve decided to converse with the good Lord on your behalf and ask him to bless you because, surely you are going to hell, being that stupid.) I digress. The conversations between everyone are beautiful in their southerness and frustrating..in their southerness.
By the second half of the book, things started to drag for me. I realized we weren’t going to really deep dive the complexity of the racial issues of the time beyond all the white characters vacillating from ignoring her to threatening her and the black characters repeating they didn’t want to talk about it and…well, threatening her, albeit a bit differently than the others. At some point, it felt like everyone on the planet, EXCEPT Billie, understood what happened and why the hell was that? Bless her heart. 💁🏾
Pros: The descriptions of the Delta and southern culture are excellent. Dialogue between the characters are equally as nice as hugely believable. There is a bit of a love story embedded in the book and I think it’s what pushed me to finish the story.
Cons: You’ll wait so long for the climax, it isn’t really climatic and then the story, sort of continues with no real gain. Weird.
Y’all know I don’t do spoilers but, if you read this one, let me know. I can’t wait to discuss the evolution of Billie’s desire for vengeance, her relationships with the towns people and the Uncles character. Really good character development, I just wish the plot had followed. Decent book 32 of 36!