This Dark Road to Mercy

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darkroadThis Dark Road to Mercy
Wiley Cash
HarperCollins, January 2014
240 pages

In This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash has married the literary family drama to the dark heist comedy, drawing heavily on America’s pastimes: baseball, custody disputes, and tortured pasts.

Easter Quillby’s father, Wade Chesterton, is back in town. At first Easter tries to protect her younger sister (Ruby, age 7) from his attentions, but the looming threat of having to leave their foster home to live with their grandparents in Alaska pushes her to stick with the devil she knows, and she gives Wade a chance to prove that he really wants to be a father again. The family drama wears the pants in this relationship—the heist comedy doesn’t begin to factor in until Wade kidnaps the girls from their foster home and takes them on the run, paying for their hotel, hair dye, and carnival pitching games out of a duffle bag full of cash.

Like Cash’s first novel, A Land More Kind than Home, there are three point-of-view characters in This Dark Road to Mercy. The difference is that here they are all archetypes: the ex-cop with a heart of gold (Brady Weller), estranged from his family after a tragic accident years ago; the dangerous hitman on our hero’s tail (Pruitt), a rather one-dimensional thug who lacks the personality to make his violent exploits interesting; and the disappointed ward of the state (Easter), who is the least on-type of the trio, with just the right amount of childish hope layered under her cynicism.*

But it’s Wade, despite not being one of the point-of-view characters, who is the most interesting, and Cash refuses to cast him in predictable molds. He’s a McConaughey type: wiry, dirty, and low-down, but always with a smile and earnest intentions. Years ago, he was a minor league pitcher, on the same franchise as Sammy Sosa—who, in the summer this book is set, is battling it out with Mark McGwire for the home run season record.

That summer—the summer of ’98—was a more innocent time in our collective American consciousness. Before the doping, the lies, and the hearings, we felt this great anticipation of history, hoping every night that we would see it made before our eyes. Every character engages with this baseball backdrop, which lightens the book’s mood and also serves nicely as a climax scene.

Overall, This Dark Road to Mercy lacks the devastating moments that characterized A Land More Kind Than Home. There is one scene, however, that twists that knife beautifully: when Easter tells us how her mother died. It’s a heartbreaking story worthy of Faulkner.

This Dark Road to Mercy isn’t a home run of a book, but with a few shining characters and a well-paced plot it is still a solid double.

* When I failed to read the title of the first chapter that changes point of view, I assumed that Easter Quillby grew up in the middle of the paragraph and became a transman bouncer at a bar in Alaska, bent on deadly revenge against her father for crimes unknown. This might be a bridge too far, but it sure would have been an unusual read.