Thursday, July 5, 2012

REVIEW: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Synopsis (from Amazon):  A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.  For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

My Thoughts: This was a book I saw in the William Morrow publishing catalog awhile back and put it on my to read list.  I looked for it at B&N when it first came out but my local one can be kind of lame sometimes so I wasn't able to get it.  When I saw it at the library I snapped it up and am so glad I did because I LOVED IT!!  The story takes place in the small Appalachian Mountain town of Marshall, NC.  
The book is narrated by three characters in the novel: nine year old Jess Hall (younger brother of mute Christopher AKA Stump), Adelaide Lyle a kind older woman with a backwater upbringing, and Clem Barefield the town sheriff who is nearing retirement.  As is typical of a small town, everyone knows everyone else and has for decades. It is not often someone new comes around but a man named  Chambliss comes to town and takes over the congregation as pastor-covering all the windows so no one can see what goes on in the church services.  And there are some strange happenings inside that church as young Jess will witness.  When evil occurs within the walls of the church everything starts unraveling in the town.

I would categorize this book more as literary fiction than a mystery/thriller type novel.  I loved all three of the narrators: Jess with his child's perspective, Adelaide with her resolve to do right by the children when she realizes something is not right within the church and leaves, and Clem Barefield who is determined to see justice done after the tragedy occurs in the Church.  At the center of it all is Chambliss who is charismatic, manipulative, and drunk with power-he has everyone in the congregation under his spell.  I also liked the back stories for all of three of the narrators.  We see Jess' relationship with his mute brother Stump, Adelaide's story of how she came to the town and why she broke with the Church, and the tragedy Clem suffered and his long path to forgiveness and healing because of it. I have read reviews calling the plot and characters stereotypical but as someone who doesn't normally read this type of book I didn't see that at all.

The writing is exceptional and even if there wasn't a great build up of suspense, I had to know what happened to all the characters.  I read this in one sitting and stayed up to 1 am to find out.  The ending wasn't quite what I was expecting but this is one of those books where you find yourself thinking about the characters days after you've finished reading it.  Definitely recommend-can't believe this was a debut novel!

 I borrowed this book from the Fruitport Library.

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