Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Land More Kind Than Home

A Land More Kind Than Home
Author: Wiley Cash
P.S., 2012
306 pages

I've been spending a lot of time in Davidson, North Carolina recently, where they have a wonderful independent bookstore called Main Street Books. While browsing there, I came across an autographed copy of A Land More Kind Than Home by North Carolina author Wiley Cash, who'd recently done a book signing. I'd been wanting to read the book for a while, so finding the autograph was like finding a special prize. I had to have it!

The story takes place in 1986 in a small town in the North Carolina mountains, where young Jess Hall (one of three narrators) and his older brother Christopher (nicknamed Stump) live with their parents. Jess is a sweet, curious boy and easy to fall in love with, and you'll know why the moment he starts telling his story. 

But Jess's story doesn't begin right away. The first chapter is narrated by an older woman named Adeline. She's the town midwife and herbalist, and a member of a local church where a charismatic preacher has a strong hold on his congregation. Adeline's first chapter gives us perspective on the events leading up to the present day as she recounts a disturbing incident that happened years earlier in a Sunday service. Adeline reappears to narrate other chapters, providing a sort of old/wise/common sense. She's a sympathetic character, although you can't help but wonder why she doesn't find another church.

The third narrator is the local sheriff, Clem, who suffered a loss many years ago that he's still trying to recover from. Of the three narrators, he's the one I had the most difficult time connecting with emotionally, yet I felt his pain and wanted him to heal.

Other interesting characters include Jess and Stump's parents. Their father was a high school athlete who had a chance at a bright future but chose other options; now he's an emotionally distant burley tobacco farmer. He has issues with his own father, a 'mean' drunk who's coming back into the picture after many years away. Then there's Jess and Stump's well-meaning but completely weak-willed Mom, who's totally under the influence of the preacher.

Oh, yeah, the preacher. Talk about creepy. That's all I'm gonna say about him.

I mentioned earlier that Jess is a curious boy. It's this curiosity that gets him into 'trouble' and sets the events in motion. A Land More Kind Than Home is Jess's coming-of-age story, one so powerful that you won't be able to forget this cool kid for a long time.

I should mention that some reviewers have compared A Land More Kind Than Home that great southern classic To Kill a Mockingbird. I think the comparison is a fair one. I also think this is a pretty amazing first novel, and I look forward to reading other works by Wiley Cash. His second book, This Dark Road to Mercy, was released in January in the USA -- so maybe it won't be long.