A Land More Kind Than Home
William Morrow, April 2012
I don’t want to obscure the issue here, so I will be brief: A Land More Kind Than Home is a book you will be excited to read—that is, if you’re still in this game for some good old-fashioned storytelling. Wiley Cash has a solid talent for the oft-neglected arts of tragedy and suspense, mixed with just enough modern pathos and parallelism to make his writing literary without being pretentious. An auspicious start for a first novelist.
Set in the North Carolina highlands, A Land More Kind Than Home tells the story of a mute boy, Christopher “Stump” Hall, and his suspicious death during a faith healing. In the book’s world, religion is dug in as deep as a snake in a hole, and the head of the local revival church is a cruel and charismatic man named Carson Chambliss. Once word of Stump’s death gets out, fingers are being pointed, Chambliss is lurking behind the scenes, and the Hall family begins self-destructing.
There are three point of view characters in Land, each trying the best they can to make sense of this tragedy, and each lacking a crucial part of the whole story. We hear from Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife, who knows Pastor Chambliss’s sin but is defenseless against the power of the church she left ten years ago. Then there is Jess Hall, Stump’s little brother and stalwart defender, who sees too much but cannot make sense of it all. Last we have Sherriff Clem Barefield, who also lost his son too soon, many years ago. He does his best to keep the peace (both in town and in his own head), but this might well be an impossible task, considering everything that has been set in motion.
With murder, religion, infidelity, domestic abuse, guns, whiskey and snake handling, Land is rich in unstable relationships and beautiful tragedy. So rich in fact that the novel ended unexpectedly soon. It was well ended, to be sure, with a fitting climax, but I longed for more along the way. Rare is the book that would support another fifty pages of development, and rarer still is the writer who can resist giving it. I suppose we will just have to wait, and anticipate Wiley Cash’s next novel all the more.