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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-01-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Cash’s debut novel is a chilling descent into the world of religious frenzy in small town North Carolina. At the core of the book is a mysterious and demonic pastor, Carson Chambliss, an ex-con and born-again believer who uses snakes and poison to prove God’s love: he seduces the town with raucous church meetings where they dance, heal, and speak in tongues until one Sunday a mute child dies during evening service. The novel is narrated from multiple perspectives, taking us deep into the minds of the dead boy’s younger brother, Jess, of sheriff Barefield who investigates the crime and has his own past demons to run from, and of Adelaide Lyle, an old healer and midwife who’s spent her life grasping after faith and has had her own run-ins with Pastor Chambliss. The story weaves back and forth through time, as the traumas of the past emerge to trouble the present, and the dead boy’s father seeks justice through violence and drink. The distinctive and authentic voices of the characters help Cash draw a moving portrait of smalltown life and the power of belief. Though the story falls within the tradition of Southern gothic, the strangeness and horror remain distant in the characters’ laconic narration. And while it gestures toward big questions about the nature of religion and the genesis of evil, it is more concerned with melodrama and tragedy. But the book is compelling, with an elegant structure and a keen eye for detail, matched with compassionate attention to character. The languid atmosphere seduces, and Cash’s fine first effort pulls the reader into a shadowy, tormented world where wolves prowl in the guise of sheep. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Associates. (Apr. 17)
The darkness of small-town North Carolina
Jess Hall will never forget what he saw while peering into the church that day. Sheriff Clem Barfield is determined to find out exactly what happened inside those walls. And when all is said and done, town midwife Adelaide Lyle finally feels like the church is again a place of sanctuary.
Strange goings-on at River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following have been taking place ever since mysterious Pastor Carson Chambliss arrived in rural Marshall, North Carolina. It was one thing when parishioners covered the church windows in newspaper, then began speaking in tongues and handling serpents. But Addie had had enough when a copperhead struck a 79-year-old church member. After the snake was put away, the service went on and church members dumped the body in the woman’s front yard to avoid drawing attention to the congregation. Addie declared the church no place for children and began leading the congregation’s youngest members in Sunday school lessons beside the river, where they were safe.
Or so it seems, until the day a church man comes for one of her charges. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Christopher “Stump” Hall is brought in for healing. The child has been mute since birth, and his mother is a loyal church member. But when the healing goes terribly wrong, the entire town is thrown into a tailspin.
In his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash ably blends the intertwining stories of Jess, Addie and Clem to gradually reveal what happened to Stump in the church that Sunday. In the process, Cash proves capable of handling dialect and multiple narrators while creating distinctive voices and fully developed characters.
Jess has always been fiercely protective of Stump, and Cash offers insight into a child made more adult by being responsible for his older brother. Addie has served as midwife for most of the town, and as a result can trace each character’s path to the present. Though Clem, as sheriff, plays the role of good guy, his struggles with right, wrong and anger make him a believable character. Cash, himself from western North Carolina, never stoops to typecasting his characters, instead exploring how their pasts have led them to the present. The result is a compelling, fast-paced story that draws the reader into the lives of Marshall’s residents.