Monday, July 7, 2014

A Land More Kind Than Home

In 2013 I read a total of 46 books over the span of the year (an unprecedented number for me), so this past January I decided to up the ante and set a goal of reading 52 books in 2014; one for every week of the year. While I was going strong straight through April, work and other distractions threw me off my pace but thanks to my TV shows summer hiatus and a number of true gems which I was able to plow through in less than a day, including this book, I’m slowly but surely making up for lost ground. In fact, counting Mr. Mercedes, which I’m currently reading and more than half way through, I’ve read a total of 24 books. Woo-hoo! On a related note, thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I’m using Shelfari as a motivating force for staying on track; as you might have noticed I even added the widget here on the blog. I don’t know if you guys use it, but I just love perusing my virtual book shelf and giving myself a little pat on the back for every book I add to it.

Onto the true subject at hand, which is a review of A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. Back in February I read Cash’s latest novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, which proved a wonderfully engaging coming of age tale and thriller rolled into one. Though I just found this mesmerizing tale, A Land More Kind Than Home is actually Wiley Cash’s 2012 debut novel; an engrossing thriller, character-based novel, and Southern tragedy all in one that so deeply immerses you in its setting, story, and protagonists that it reads more like a memoir than a fiction novel.

Set in Marshall, a small town in North Carolina, A Land More Kind Than Home tells the story of 9-year old Jess Hall and his older brother Christopher, a mute that everyone calls Stump. Dad, Ben, grows tobacco on their farm, while mom Julie is a devout follower of Pastor Carson Chambliss and his River Road Church of Christ in Signs. More cult than church with newspaper covered windows in their storefront locale, the parishioners handle snakes and perform laying of hands to cure their ills. Though Jess is the younger brother he’s always looked out for his older brother, but despite being frequently warned by their mom about snooping, one day one simple act of curiosity on Stump’s part has tragic consequences that lead to his death and set off a chain of events that pits good vs evil and changes one family and town forever.

A Land More Kind Than Home is a truly engrossing page-turning tale that I enjoyed from the first page to its tragic yet foreseeable conclusion. Inspired by a true story which took place in Chicago in which an autistic boy is smothered during a church healing service, the author transplanted our fictional tale’s setting to a place closer to home and as a product of the South and of North Carolina in particular, he perfectly captured the local color, the landscape and the culture of rural life in Marshall and made it an integral character in this tale. A bittersweet tale of faith, love and redemption; while the tale focuses on the tragic consequences surrounding the Hall family, our three narrator’s shared memories and truths reflect on their entire Appalachian community and tell their collective story.

Our story is told through three main narrators who each offer a unique perspective of events as they take place over the course of six fateful days; Jess Hall, Stump’s young and na├»ve brother, innocent to the evils of man and as such oblivious to the consequences of their actions on that momentous day or the result of ultimately divulging his secret; 81-year old Adelaide Lyle, the local midwife and moral conscious of the church, and the person solely aware of the venomous snake in their midst in the form of Carson Chambliss; and lastly, Sheriff Clem Barefield, the local sheriff tasked with investigating Stump’s death, whose life is intrinsically linked with the Hall family due to the death of his own son many years ago.

Each one of these characters is fully fleshed out with evocative back stories and memories shared through flashbacks that bring each more fully to life and movingly inform the reader as to the driving force which has shaped each of their lives. Adelaide and Clem are the more compelling voices; a fact which is undoubtedly due in part to the fact that they are older characters with more life lived and in turn more wisdom and insight to share. They’ve each lived lives scarred by pain and loss, yet equally touched by love and joy and those palpably conveyed emotions make them relatable and real.

Despite its heartache and loss, in the end the author redeems the tale’s darkness and its main characters with a sense of hope and healing. A Land More Kind Than Home is a powerful and poignant novel dealing with themes of faith and family which are brilliantly conveyed through three unforgettable voices.