Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: A Land More Kind Than Home

Wiley Cash's second book grabbed my attention on the recent acquisition list for our library. I joined the hold list, but also checked to see if they had his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home. I was in luck.

The cover alone led me to believe this would be a worthwhile read. I love the title, taken from a line in Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again (the full quote being: "[Death is] to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.") The rich colors of sunset on the side of a small hill with a house and trees were inviting. Then there's the quote by Clyde Edgerton declaring it to be "a first novel that sings with talent."

I'd have to agree with Edgerton. I'm always in awe of writers who can move a reader so intensely right out of the gate. No stumbling about with preliminary efforts to nail the voice and plot required to suck a reader in. Wiley Cash has just that ability. He has created a story with an enticing premise and three clearly-voiced narrators.

Jess Hall is a curious nine-year old boy, fiercely protective of his mute older brother, Christopher, a boy everyone calls "Stump." One day, Stump sees something he shouldn't have, and this leads to a path of destructive fall-out. Jess watches it all unfold, alongside the town midwife, Adelaide Lyle, and the town sheriff, Clem Barefield.

The story revolves around the events of one day, a Sunday when Stump's mother, Julie, takes him for a healing service at her extremist church. The charismatic pastor has convinced his parishioners to believe in the Holy Ghost power to allow individuals to hold snakes, drink poison, and miraculously thrive from the laying on of hands. Only Stump doesn't thrive or regain his voice. He dies. His father, Ben, and his newly returned grandfather, Jimmy, want answers.

I loved how the author managed to unfold the tale like a flower coming into bloom. The characters each have rich back-story, but the back-story was never disruptive. It served to tease out the tale. Moreover, he captured rich tension between the characters. Readers simply cannot pry their eyes away as the tale sweeps into further destructive territory.

I already have his second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, in hand. I'm expecting another excellent read. I foresee a great future for this young, talented writer.

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