The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom (Grove Press; 432 pages; $25).
Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng (Amistad; 336 pages; $25.99).
If you are looking for a substantial read, I highly recommend two historical epic novels that may, at first glance, seem very dissimilar yet share many characteristics.
In elegant, lucid prose, fiction newcomer Kent Wascom brings the frontier, in all its violence and disorder, to stunning life in The Blood of Heaven. Wascom follows Angel Woolsack, from his early life as the son of an itinerant preacher to the bordellos of Natchez and the barrooms of New Orleans to the bayous of Louisiana where Angel meets schemers and dreamers. Rich with detail and characterizations, The Blood of Heaven revisits an early America where fortunes and men were made and great risks were taken.
Wascom is not yet 30, but he infuses his story with a wisdom, awareness, and clarity well beyond his years. As Angel and others carve out a rough-hewn existence in early nineteenth century America, we see them seizing their place and even plotting to overthrow a sovereign government. Through it all, Angel’s hold on us never wavers but intensifies. The Blood of Heaven proves Wascom is a trailblazer whose brilliance is not a one-off but a true and rooted fact.
Chinese-American author Bill Cheng takes on the African-American existence in Mississippi in his epic odyssey Southern Cross the Dog. Cheng focuses his narrative lens on Robert Chatham, a black man in his 20s who believes he is cursed. He has good reason for his thinking.
Cheng contrasts the tenderness of falling in love for the first time with rising flood waters that heralded the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the catastrophe that destroyed Robert’s home and changed his life forever.
In Southern Cross the Dog, Robert’s journey takes him from a refugee camp to a brothel to a job clearing land in the name of progress. With an evocative setting, Southern Cross the Dog is a testament to a man’s will to live and to the distance he will go for friendship and love as he must carve a place and an existence free of bad luck and curses.
Full of meaning, The Blood of Heaven and Southern Cross the Dog feature strong main characters who undergo odysseys and take us with them on their incredible journeys. These are magisterial and resonating stories steeped in astounding settings and peopled by the most intriguing and charismatic characters. Equally memorable and equally fascinating, these novels put their authors on the literary map.