The Gone Dead

The Gone Dead

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 deathBillie 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 die...

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Title:The Gone Dead
Author:Chanelle Benz
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Gone Dead Reviews

  • Elizabeth Willis

    Just when I leave the South, I'm suddenly in this trend of reading the best Southern fiction I've ever encountered. There's so much brilliance here.

  • Jan Thullen

    Pub date 6/19 (ARC) 4-1/2 ⭐

    Billie returns to her birthplace on the Mississippi Delta after 30 years away. After her father, a poet and activist, died in an apparent accidental fall, she lived with her mother, far away from what was left of her father’s family. The fact that she had been with her father on the night of his death is the first of many facts that had been concealed from her.

    This is a compelling and immersive debut novel about family, secrets, race and persistence.

    Pub date 6/19 (ARC) 4-1/2 ⭐️

    Billie returns to her birthplace on the Mississippi Delta after 30 years away. After her father, a poet and activist, died in an apparent accidental fall, she lived with her mother, far away from what was left of her father’s family. The fact that she had been with her father on the night of his death is the first of many facts that had been concealed from her.

    This is a compelling and immersive debut novel about family, secrets, race and persistence.

  • Nick Gardner

    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 poin

    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.

  • Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)

    Full review to follow.

  • Veronica

    I haven't read Chanelle's short story collection but after reading this, I think I need to go back and rectify that.

  • Paris (parisperusing)

    In Chanelle Benz's debut novel,

    , 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, Bi

    In Chanelle Benz's debut novel,

    , 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,

    ? 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!)

  • Jessica Woodbury

    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 fr

    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.

  • Diane S ☔

    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 f

    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.

  • Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    Billie James returns to the Mississippi Delta after a thirty year absence.  After her mother's recent death, she's inherited her father's old home that has set vacant for so long it's little more than a shack.  All that Billie knows is that when she was four years old her father Cliff was found dead in his front yard.  The police claim Cliff was intoxicated and died from a fall.  In 1970's Mississippi, that was as far as the investigation into a black man's death would go.

    Billie has taken a shor

    Billie James returns to the Mississippi Delta after a thirty year absence.  After her mother's recent death, she's inherited her father's old home that has set vacant for so long it's little more than a shack.  All that Billie knows is that when she was four years old her father Cliff was found dead in his front yard.  The police claim Cliff was intoxicated and died from a fall.  In 1970's Mississippi, that was as far as the investigation into a black man's death would go.

    Billie has taken a short leave from work in Philadelphia to try to fix up the old house and reconnect with her past, especially her father's family.  

    When she meets Jerry Hopsen, a man who knew her father, the conversation eventually turns to Cliff's death and Jerry mentions Billie's disappearance that night.

    This news come as a complete surprise to Billie, who had no idea she was with her father on the night he died, let alone that she was missing for a time.  

    How long exactly was she missing?  Where was she and who was she with during that time?  No one seems willing to answer these questions, including her Uncle Dee, who waves it off as a simple misunderstanding.

    When Billie finds what appears to be one chapter out of a full manuscript of her father's, she calls in a scholar who has been researching Cliff's life for a biography to help her investigate.

    Searching for the rest of the manuscript and asking questions about Cliff's death stirs unrest in a small town that would rather forget the past and Billie finds the closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she is in.

    is a combination of literary fiction and mystery.  It covers the effects of racism in past and present, family secrets, and the motivations for both seeking truth and letting the past stay buried through the narration of several characters.

    The story was a slow burn that builds up a few plot points but the climax felt rushed, making the storytelling uneven and unfocused at times.  That said, it was still an intriguing read.

    Thanks to Ecco and Edelweiss for providing me with a DRC in exchange for my honest review.  

    is scheduled for release on June 25, 2019.

    For more reviews, visit

  • ☮Karen

    3.5 stars.

    I thought this started out strong with an intriguing hook. When Billie travels to her birthplace in rural Mississippi, where she's inherited her grandmother's house, she learns that the night her father died, she herself was reported missing, a time that she has no recollection of at all. Can you imagine learning such a thing and how you'd react?

    The more questions she asks, the more she needs to find out. People are getting upset with her, blacks and whites both, and she might actuall

    3.5 stars.

    I thought this started out strong with an intriguing hook. When Billie travels to her birthplace in rural Mississippi, where she's inherited her grandmother's house, she learns that the night her father died, she herself was reported missing, a time that she has no recollection of at all. Can you imagine learning such a thing and how you'd react?

    The more questions she asks, the more she needs to find out. People are getting upset with her, blacks and whites both, and she might actually be in danger. It also seems that her father, a black poet, may not have died accidentally, and the authorities appear to be covering up something.

    There's a lot going on, so many questions, and you might enjoy it if you are OK with questions not being 100% answered. I think I figured out most of them, but still felt the ending lacked something. A good snapshot of racism in the 60s and 70s, and a reminder that it is still alive and thriving.

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