Nine-year-old Jess Hall is caught between two worlds, those of childhood wonder and adult responsibility. Growing up in a small, rural town in the foothills of western North Carolina he and his older brother, Christopher, play in the streams and woods, getting up to the sort of mischief you’d expect of typical young country boys.
Except Christopher isn’t typical. He’s autistic, and his total lack of verbal communication has led to him being given the nickname Stump. Despite Jess being the younger brother, he’s fiercely protective of Stump and feels it’s his responsibility to make sure Stump’s path through life is as smooth as possible.
When things go horribly wrong during an attempted “healing” of Stump by Pastor Carson Chambiliss at the local evangelical church, life changes irrevocably for both boys and nothing about their small town will ever be the same again.
The events of Wiley Cash’s spectacular debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, are relayed through the perspectives of three different narrators, Jess being one of them. Weaving back and forth in time, Cash also adds the world–weary voices of longtime Sheriff Clem Barefield and town/church elder Adelaide Lyle to help flesh out his Southern Gothic tale of religion gone wrong and the destructive power of secrets.
The underlying themes of A Land More Kind Than Home–loss of innocence, betrayal of trust, manipulation of religion, the search for forgiveness and redemption–are not new to literature. How Cash makes his mark, and makes those themes his own, is through his amazingly nuanced development of character and the story’s wonderfully evocative mid 1980s rural western North Carolina setting.
For an author to settle so comfortably into the skin of a character that he can bring them to life as real as any person you’ve actually known is a special talent…and Cash does it times three. Jess, Sheriff Clem Barefield, and Adelaide Lyle are pitch-perfect in their presentation, with each voice ringing painfully true to their respective lots in life as they contribute their individual pieces to the puzzle Cash constructs throughout a captivating 320 pages.
Similarly, the descriptions of the lives and land are as colorfully painted and fully realized as it gets. From the run-down former general store with newspapered over windows that the shady Pastor Chambliss converts into his church, to the ramshackle homes on the edge of tobacco fields, to the distinctive rural Southern dialect, Cash brings his beloved home state of North Carolina vividly to life.
A Land More Kind Than Home is a smashingly triumphant debut, one which will stay with you long after you’ve finished. In fact, don’t be surprised to see A Land More Kind Than Home have the kind of staying power and lasting impression that lands it on more than a few “Best of 2012” lists come year end.
A Land More Kind Than Home is available from William Morrow (ISBN: 978-0062088147).
And be sure to read Wiley’s guest post, “I didn’t set out to create an evil preacher.”