Tag Archives: Wiley Cash

Miracles and Mirages

Miracles and Mirages

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (William Morrow; 320 pages; $24.99).

 

Charles Manson.  Jim Jones.  David Koresh.  Carson Chambliss.  That last name may not be as familiar to you as the other names of famous and frighteningly real cult leaders are.  Chambliss, the fictitious pastor of the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following, runs a small backwoods congregation in rural North Carolina in Wiley Cash’s powerful, taut debut novel A Land More Kind than Home.  Like Manson, Jones, and Koresh, Chambliss’s followers will do absolutely anything for him; Chambliss’s congregation speak in tongues, handle snakes, and even kill for their leader.

Not everyone is drinking Chambliss’s kool-aid, though.  Adelaide “Addie” Lyle, former church member, mid-wife, and one of the narrators of Cash’s novel, knows all too well just what her ex-pastor is capable of.  Addie has seen people “pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them.  Holy people too.  God-fearing folks that hadn’t ever acted like that a day in their lives.”  Chambliss, Addie says, convinces them that it is “safe to challenge the will of God” and makes them feel it is “all right to take that dare if they” believe.

An incident that occurred years previously prompted Addie to take the children out of the church and teach them at her home instead every Sunday.  Curiously, Chambliss agreed to this.  Since she birthed these children, Addie feels like she has a right to their spirits.  Cash employs streams of consciousness to get the reader inside Addie’s head.  The effect is compelling and highly readable.  But Addie is not alone in her distrust of her ex-pastor.

Sheriff Clem Barefield, another narrator, knows Chambliss is a man of secrets and lies.  One of the pastor’s hands is severely burned.  The sheriff knows the damage occurred from a meth lab explosion that not only injured the pastor but also killed a missing girl.   Chambliss required extensive skin grafts, but his hand is severely disfigured.  Chambliss, of course, explains that it was “God’s will.”

The skin grafts help explain Chambliss’ fascination, or rather obsession, with snakes.  The rattles and shed skins of serpents adorn Chambliss’s barn in a frightening fashion.  Chambliss collects them and likes to think the skins “remind us that we can change into something new.”  Sheriff Barefield explains the pastor’s interest best, as snakes “shed skin, men shed skin.”  Skin “grows back” in some cases, but “sometimes it gets grafted on,” as in the case of Chambliss.

The sheriff has more pressing concerns than snakes, though.  Nine-year-old Jess Hall is Cash’s third and final narrator.  His brother, Stump, is mute and has been since birth.  The boys’ mother attends Chambliss’s church and is a loyal follower.  But the boys’ father is no fan of the pastor or of religion.

The boys see something they are not supposed to see.  Their transgression puts Stump particularly on Chambliss’s radar.  The pastor calls Stump to services and believes he can “cure” the boy of his affliction.  So do the congregation and Stump’s mother.

Cash’s characters have little or no education.  Some can be unapologetically ignorant but always real.  Their lack of intelligence makes them highly susceptible to a man like Chambliss.  Those who attend the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following are easily led.  They believe everything Chambliss tells them, and they blindly follow his orders, whatever they may be.

Cash sets his story in his home state of North Carolina.  He peoples his book with backwoods types, hillbillies even.  There is an authenticity to his characters.  Cash peppers his prose with “reckons,” “ain’ts,” and “fixin’ to’s.”  He writes them as they really are, and the story is better because of it.  His characters believe in tobacco, hard work, God, and Chambliss, but not necessarily in that order.  The atmospheric quality to his writing brings to mind Charles Frazier, Ron Rash, and Cormac McCarthy.

A Land More Kind than Home is filled with tension.  Chambliss is not a narrator of the story, yet, in my mind, he stands out.  He is all the more menacing and dangerous when he stands on the periphery of this tale.  Cash never lets us inside his head; instead, Chambliss and his true intentions are unknowable.  This reader was drawn to Chambliss’s character; he is mesmerizing.

There is an inevitability to this tale.  From as early as page one, the reader knows things will not end well.  The beauty is seeing where Cash will take his characters and us.

Most beautiful of all, though, is when Jess warns us that miracles are often like mirages in the desert: “I thought about what a mirage must look like in the desert after you’ve gotten yourself lost and you ain’t had nothing to drink and are just about ready to die.  I reckon at that point your mind can trick you into seeing just about anything it wants you to see.”  Too bad most of the adults in this novel are not as sage as this nine-year-old boy.

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Spotlight on A Land More Kind Than Home

I’m currently reading Wiley Cash’s debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home.  If you’ve read this story or are currently reading it, then you know how taut and powerful it really is.  I can’t believe this is Cash’s first book!  It does not feel like a first novel; it reads like it was written by a pro.  Cash is a master at giving his characters an authenticity.  He fills their language with “reckons,” “ain’ts,” and “fixin’ tos” with ease.  I am hooked!

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April Fiction–Lots of Books Blooming!

This is the start of something new.  Spring is new, and the time could not be more perfect.  From now on, at the beginning of each month, I am going to share with you the notable new releases for that month.  You’re in luck!  There’s much to talk about for April.

Before I begin, please note: If there is a book you’re keen on that is not listed here, let me know.  Perhaps I do not know about it and would like to read it.  I will try to limit myself to ten books.  Sometimes I may have more; sometimes I may have less.  It all depends.

Without further ado.  Here are the books I’m excited about for April.

1.  The Lifeboat Charlotte Rogan

The debut novel of Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat, is getting a lot of attention right now.  That is amazing, considering it was released on April 3.  The New York Times ran a review in which I learned Rogan was 57 when she got her book deal.  What an inspiration she is!  The Lifeboat is perfect for your book club and the main character, Grace, on trial for murder, will generate much discussion.

2.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This novel was released March 27, but Amazon has the title listed as one of its best of April.  Another debut, The Land of Decoration features a ten-year-old heroine named Judith.  It’s difficult to resist a story which Emma Donoghue, author of Room, said “grabbed me by the throat.”

3.  The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night is another title you can pick up now.  Olmstead sets his story during the Korean War and after.  I am lucky because Olmstead will visit Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 19.  If your local bookstore features signings, check to see if Olmstead will be there.

4.  The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

People Magazine loves this novel about four Harvard roommates who reunite after 20 years.  Their seemingly perfect lives are anything but.  The Red Book has been called The Big Chill meets The Group.”  This novel is out now.

5.  Calico Joe by John Grisham

John Grisham’s newest book, Calico Joe, is one of Amazon’s best books of the month and comes out April 10.  This time, Grisham turns to baseball and explores the themes of forgiveness and redemption.  Like all of Grisham’s previous novels, Calico Joe is sure to become a bestseller.

6.  The Cove by Ron Rash

The bestselling author of Serena returns with The Cove.  The novel is about a sister and brother and the cove, which may be cursed, where they live.  Rash will appear at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, on April 18.  Be sure to check in your area.  Your city may be a stop on his tour.  The Cove is an Amazon best book of the month.

7.  The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I must confess that I have never read Anne Tyler, but The Beginner’s Goodbye intrigues me.  Tyler tells the story of a middle-aged widower who is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his wife.  Until he starts seeing her, that is.  Amazon has this listed as one of the best books of the month.

8.  A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

I cannot wait to read Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, to be released April 17.  Cash’s debut has been compared to those of John Hart and Tom Franklin.  Amazon chose the novel as one of its best books of the month.  Cash will sign copies of his book on June 1, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS.  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.”

9.  Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

The author of The Absence of Nectar and The House of Gentle Men (two of my favorites) returns with Blue Asylum.  I would love to interview Hepinstall.  During the Civil War, a Virginia plantation mistress is put on trial and convicted of madness.  She is sent to Sanibel Asylum, where she meets many interesting people.  Hepinstall asks the questions what is madness and who decides in this gripping tale.

10.  Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

On the cusp of World War I, a young English actor has an affair.  She later goes to the police and accuses her former lover of rape.  In a twist, the young man is saved from trial by two diplomats.  William Boyd’s upcoming book is already getting lots of buzz before its April 17 release.  This one could be a stunner!

 

Which books are you excited about this month?  What about for summer?  I’d love to hear all about them!

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