In this first novel by the author of the story collection The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead, Billie James returns to the Mississippi Delta to attend to an inheritance. But she gets more than she bargained for when old wounds resurface, including her father's death when she was just four years old amid mysterious circumstances that now put her in danger.
Can a debut novel be a masterpiece of cultural criticism? Chanelle Benz makes an earnest effort to answer that question in the affirmative. The Gone Dead is a startling work that will set your skin tingling and interrupt your sleep ... Reading Benz is exciting and unnerving. She excels at capturing the moods and subtle gradations of her characters who can be upstanding but also shady at times, playing fast and loose with morality ... The first third of Benz’s novel is beautifully lyrical. It calls to mind the rolling, almost musical style of James Baldwin’s prose and mirrors his way of eloquently capturing the ugliest stories. The mystery creates urgency during the second third, when reading feels like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it. It’s not going fast enough. You want to know more—now. But the ending feels unsatisfyingly ambiguous ... Even so, Benz could become one of the most prominent voices of her generation based on how good this book is.
... almost every chapter in The Gone Dead yields a surprise ... The author excels at capturing authentic turns of phrase ... Benz’s ability to assume a vast array of distinct, heartfelt voices, her knack for understanding and revealing complex human behavior ... Benz’s Delta is portrayed with care and depth ... She traces with nuance and subtlety the stagnant trail of race relations, linking mass incarceration, mandatory minimums, unemployment and crack to anti-miscegenation laws, Freedom Rides and even the South’s loss in the Civil War. 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.
... the first-time novelist 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 ... American literature loves a good destructive homecoming, and Benz doesn’t stray too much from the tradition, keeping her reader off balance as she shifts among several conflicting points of view. The approach is effective, if a little deceptive. You can look at The Gone Dead as either a halfhearted crime thriller, one not particularly interested in the quick pacing and tight plotting inherent to the genre, or a well-rounded Southern novel, wherein injustice is ingrained ... Benz’s gift for structure is undeniable...Her sprawling cast glistens with distinct cadences and perspectives that combine for a satisfying, affecting whole ... tackles big topics intimately. Perhaps its most unique element as a Southern novel is its potent underlying melancholy ... The climax feels far too rushed, but it does lead into a note-perfect denouement, in which The Gone Dead takes one final deep breath. On the exhale, listen closely.