Sunday, February 23, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy

Wiley Cash’s This Dark Road to Mercy is a coming of age story and page-turning thriller centered around two sisters, their wayward father, an ex-cop and a psychotic killer bent on revenge. Twelve-year old Easter Quillby and her six-year old sister Ruby are adjusting to their foster home since the death of their mother from a drug overdose. When Wade shows up after school one day it had been three years since Easter had last seen her father; going back to the day he’d signed papers in court relinquishing his parental rights. Easter had “always called him “Wade” because it never felt right to think of him as “Dad” or “Daddy” or anything else kids are supposed to call their parents. Parents who got called things like that did stuff for their kids that I (she) couldn’t ever imagine Wade doing for us (them).” When Wade longingly says "I just want to spend some time with you and your sister", Easter quickly dissuades her father from any crazy notions of a sweet family reunion, telling him "You can't. It's too late."

A few days later a determined Wade sneaks into the girl's room through a window and removes any option, telling the girls that they've got to go with him. Wade's sense of urgency and fear strikes a chord with Easter, who'd had an unfriendly visit from a menacing stranger, Pruitt, asking questions about Wade. In fact, Wade has good reason to run and hide since he's carrying around a duffel bag full of cash stolen from none other than Tommy Broughton, the Don Corleone of the local hillbilly Mafia. With the girls in tow and idyllic dreams of fatherhood, Wade takes off for Myrtle Beach unaware of the fact that he's being trailed by Pruitt, his old baseball foe whom he'd accidentally disfigured and ended his baseball career, and also Brady Weller, the girl's guardian ad litem, an ex-cop looking for a little redemption of his own. With baseball and the Sosa and McGwire home run record race as the backdrop, the thrilling chase is on and we the readers are taken along for the ride as we try to anticipate each next move in this dark cat and mouse chase.

I enjoyed this short novel (it really is a quick read) which drew me in more through its compelling characters than its storyline, which at times doesn't seem fully developed. The book alternates between three narrators - Easter, Pruitt and Brady, and each offers a captivating, unique and distinct voice though it's Easter that truly serves as both the tale's heroine and heart. Easter is feisty and brave and puts me in mind of some other great child characters which I've read, like Sally O'Malley from Lesley Kagen's Whistling in the Dark (though not as funny or witty) or Scout from To Kill a Mockinbird in her older than her age insights.

While you'd think it would be the more exciting aspects of the story that capture the readers imagination, like the chase or the villain, personally I felt they were the weakest links in the story; the chase is almost a none issue and the villain's actions given the reward and motivation seem entirely over the top. It's the more boring or staid (for lack of a better word) facets of the narrative dealing with character redemption and atonement that strike a deeper chord and seem more thoughtfully developed or defined. With Wade in particular, while he initially comes across like a thoughtless lout putting his girls in harm's way, by the end of the book you do feel like the character has shown growth and that it was genuine sentiment and love driving his actions as opposed to pure selfishness.

Overall, this was an entertaining read made so thanks to the memorable voice of its main character Easter, who offers a touching window into a child's heartbreak and hope when dealing with the fickle emotions and actions of a less than stellar parent. While This Dark Road to Mercy doesn't quite manage to pack a breath-stealing emotional punch, it does efficiently tug on your heartstrings.