A Land More Kind Than Home, by Wiley Cash
Inspired by a real incident that took place in the city of Chicago, Wiley Cash set this, his first novel, in a small town in North Carolina during the 1980s. Julie Hall is a dedicated follower of the almighty Pastor Chambliss, who believes that Julie’s thirteen-year-old autistic mute son, Stump, needs to be saved. With religion as the driving force of the book, Cash tells the story of the Halls, and the series of events that lead to tragedy.
As a native of North Carolina, Cash writes about his beloved homeland with passion, yet paints a starkly bleak picture as he does so. The book is narrated by three different characters; Adelaide, Clem, and Jess. Adelaide Lyle is a wise old woman who is largely respected by the townspeople, and is the only person who has the courage to stand up to Carson Chambliss. Clem Barefield is the local Sheriff, and through investigating the case of Stump, the reader learns of Barefield’s own painful past and personal experience with losing a loved one. Thirdly, nine-year-old Jess Hall, Stump’s younger brother, tells his heart-wrenching story through the eyes of a child. Cash writes convincingly as all three narrators, credibly portraying affection, wisdom, pain, hope, desperation, and the destruction of childhood innocence.
Another key character in the novel, and who cannot go undiscussed, is Pastor Chambliss. Although he does not narrate, the reader comes to know him well. To say that Chambliss is disturbing and unpleasant is a gross understatement. I wanted to put the book down on several occasions just to get away from him. Of course, however, it takes great skill for a writer to develop an array of characters that are so rounded and human.
Throughout my journey of reading A Land More Kind Than Home, I kept expecting that something more, something bigger, was going to happen. Even at its climax, I was not quite engrossed or fully engaged. Even though I feel that the characterisation and descriptions of the physical settings were striking, somehow it all fell flat for me. Maybe this is simply because this book is one full of sadness and disappointment, so enjoyment is perhaps not a realistic reaction, but I still expected to be more caught up in it. With its title full of hope, and a front cover depicting a boy in a cornfield bathed in warm golden sunlight in front of a small country church, the truth of the unfolding story is somewhat shocking, and unexpectedly depressing.
This book would be an ideal read for anyone wanting to discuss how varied interpretations of the Bible can lead different people down very different life paths, and it seems to serve as a warning about the potential consequences of making certain choices on the matter. If you are looking for something upbeat, fast-paced, and heart-warming, this is therefore perhaps not the ideal book for you.