Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062088149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062088147

Book Description

A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

About The Author

I deeply love my native state of North Carolina, especially its mountains. I hope my love for this region is evident in A Land More Kind Than Home's portrayal of western North Carolina's people, culture, and religious faith. While A Land More Kind Than Home revolves around a young autistic boy who is smothered during a church healing service, the novel's three narrators all represent my experience of growing up in North Carolina and being raised in an evangelical church.

Like Jess Hall, the younger brother who secretly witnesses the death, I often found myself sitting in church and waiting for something to happen. As a boy I was promised that I would recognize my salvation when I felt Jesus move inside my heart; however, just as Jess does after his brother's death, I attempted to rationalize the mysteries of Christianity, and I soon realized that we often use faith to fill the empty spaces in our lives. Like Adelaide Lyle, the church matriarch who straddles the divide between religious faith and old-time folk belief, my own religious beliefs are rounded out with a healthy dose of skepticism. While I'm always suspicious of those who pray the loudest, I can't help but acknowledge the tug on my heart when I witness a baptism, and I can't account for the inexplicable peace that comes from humming an old-time gospel. But I most identify with the character Clem Barefield, the local sheriff who must sift through his own tragic past to solve the mystery of the boy's death, because, like Clem, I'm guided only by what I can perceive of this world, and I'm hesitant to get lost in following those who claim to be led by a spirit from the next.

I began writing A Land More Kind Than Home while working on my Ph.D. at the University of Louisiana, where I spent five long years sweating, celebrating Mardi Gras, and missing the mountains of North Carolina. While living in Lafayette, I took a fiction workshop with Ernest J. Gaines, who taught me that by writing about home I could recreate that place no matter where I lived. Gaines made this clear to me one afternoon while we were visiting an old cemetery near the plantation where he was born. He pointed to a grave marker and said, "You remember Snookum from A Gathering of Old Men? He's buried right over there." While none of the characters in A Land More Kind Than Home are based on people who actually existed, they're all amalgams of the types of people I knew growing up. In creating these people and the place they live I got to watch the sun split the mist on the ridges above the French Broad River. From my desk in Louisiana I pondered the silence of snow covered fields. While living in a place that experiences only summer and fall, I watched the green buds sprout on the red maples, and I was there when their leaves began to shrivel before giving way to the wind. I lived in two places at once, and it was wonderful.

I became a Southern writer because I wanted to recreate the South that I know, and I learned to write about the South from the writers I loved. Because of this, I knew it was important to garner support for A Land More Kind Than Home from authors like Gail Godwin, Fred Chappell, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Clyde Edgerton. These writers wield an enormous influence on my work, and I have no doubt that they can say the same for the writers who came before them. Gaines often recalls William Faulkner's invocation of Oxford, Mississippi as a little postage stamp of earth that he continually mined throughout his career. Gaines did the same thing in his Louisiana fiction. That's what I tried to do in A Land More Kind Than Home. My next novel is set in the same region of North Carolina. Fortunately, this part of the country is much larger than Oxford, and I can't imagine ever running out of stories to tell about it.

My Review

Cash Wiley's debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home is a glorious read.  He has a fabulous descriptive writing style that makes the reader feel like they are right there in the hills of North Carolina.  He brings the way of life of the people there to life.  He is a storyteller who has a powerful story to tell.

I love Southern stories for some reason...probably because they celebrate the reality that people are are far from perfect.  We have faults and idiosyncrasies.  We are all a product of our surroundings.  Like people everywhere, many of the people in hills have religion at the center of their lives and like people everywhere they can be easily be misled by a charismatic preacher - a wolf in sheep's clothing.  Such is the case in A Land More Kind Than Home.  I can easily relate to false prophets and Wiley Cash is portraying a particularly evil one here. 

The relationships between the characters and the vivid portrayal of each of them brings this story to life.  You can feel what each character is feeling.  There is nothing more sad than the loss of a child.  And for a young boy to lose his only brother.  It is easy to feel young Jess's pain.  The Sheriff, Clem Barefield,  has suffered his own pain in the past and his story is interwoven with that of the Halls.  Adelaide Lyle knows something is terribly wrong with the church and she does what she can to keep the evil from the children...until she can't.  All these events lead up to an explosive ending that affects every character in this tale.

A beautifully written story by an amazing new storyteller that will haunt you for some time to come...


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