Sunday, 26 May 2013
A Land More Kind Than Home - Wiley Cash
Sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years is another one of those books that I was "saving", and when I started to read it I knew it was special. North Carolina is the setting for the book, and North Carolina is also the home of the author, Wiley Cash, whose first novel this is. I hope he has more than one book in him as I wait eagerly for the next. He is able to build characters that you can truly see within a couple of lines. You can feel and smell everything around you, the poverty, the flowers in the meadow, the tobacco plants growing in the fields, then their smell when put up to dry for selling. On the back cover part of the blurb says "... spellbinding, hearbreaking story about cruelty and innocence, and the failure of religion and family to protect a child". That just about sums it up, but you need to read it.
Children are quite often bystanders and watchers in life's ups and downs; and often they are forgotten, or ignored. It is certain that many adults have not the slightest idea what children think about certain things. And this is the case with nine year old Jess and his slightly older brother Christopher, called
"Stump" whose parents started their long run down the road of estrangement when it was discovered that Stump was definitely a mute, and possibly severely autistic. Jess supports his brother in every way he can, they go out fishing and catching salamanders, and digging out rocks with quartz in them to keep. They lead a poor, but well fed and happy childhood and when Moma goes off to her evangelical church meeting every Sunday, they spend time with Miss Adelaide Lyle, who takes Sunday School outside the church - having told the Pastor, one Carson Chambliss, that kids should not see the things that happen in his services, which are conducted in an old grocery store with newspapers over the windows. Chambliss never forgives her for this..... but you know from very early on what a manipulative, clever, evil man he is, and so you know there is trouble brewing in town. It is clear from the early pages and the back of the book that a child has died - and that is the tale within. How the child died, why the child died, and how this can be resolved.
The characters here are beautifully drawn. The Sunday School teacher Adelaide Lyle, a spinster who loves children and fears the pastor; Jess Hall, the younger boy and brother of Stump, who is afraid of telling the truth and sets tragedy in motion; Sherriff Barefield, called on to get to the bottom of the child's death, and having a death in his own family connected to the Halls. Moma Hall, the mother of the boys, broken by the birth of a not quite right child, and Papa, with a drunk for a father, love for his boys, but maybe not quite enough. They are smaller but important characters, and then of course there is Pastor Chambliss, around whom the story revolves. The major characters get blocks of chapters to tell their side of the story - a trick you either like or dislike. I liked it here very much.
It's a hard story to read. It's a good book to read. It's a wonderfully written book. The idea was suggested to the author by a happening in Chicago, but knowing next to nothing about that city, he drew on his own area, where there are tales galore about just the type of people who inhabit his pages. I had to keep turning those pages - even when I knew I would not like what was over the page - and I got to the end with a sense of satisfaction. A brilliant read - I recommend it.