Author Wiley Cash of Bethany has scored a major triumph with his debut novel, "A Land More Kind Than Home," an exploration of family and religion as secrecy and fanaticism collide.
The book, published by William Morrow, an imprint of the prestigious firm of HarperCollins Publishers, has received international and national attention since its April release. The author will appear at the Lunch With Books program at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling at noon Tuesday, May 29, to discuss his new book.
Cash, an assistant professor of English at Bethany College, is a native of western North Carolina, the region where the novel takes place. In evocative prose, he captures the spirit of the region and the beauty of the land.
Set in a small, mountainous community in 1986, the book begins in a state of innocence, with some of its characters unaware of the evil lurking below the calm surface of the tiny town. Other characters have witnessed past tragedies and experienced loss, yet even they seem unprepared for the depth of desperation that will unfold as the cumulative effects of incidents past and present combine. Only as the novel concludes will these characters realize the inter-related nature of human suffering.
The book's title is taken from an quotation from fellow North Carolinian Thomas Wolfe's novel, "You Can't Go Home Again," that Cash uses as an epigraph for the novel. In the early 20th-century novel, Wolfe wrote: "[Death is] to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing: to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
Cash's novel is told, alternately, from the perspective of three narrators: Jess Hall, a young boy whose mute older brother, Christopher, will become the central figure in the tragic unraveling of their family; Adelaide Lyle, an elderly midwife who, after glimpsing evil, opposes the charismatic town preacher; and Clem Barefield, the longtime sheriff whose life was altered by Jess' drunken grandfather.
Each of the narrators witnessed acts that, if revealed, might have prevented future tragedies; yet, when some of those secrets are disclosed, the consequences are more destructive than the innocent witnesses might ever have imagined. Thus, the novel raises compelling questions as to the nature of perception and truth, and the consequences of keeping secrets or revealing facts.
The narrators and the mute boy, known to his family as "Stump," are sympathetic, likeable characters. The boys' parents are more enigmatic, reflecting the tenor of their relationship and the price that silent disagreement can exact from a family. By contrast, the preacher appears as almost a caricature of pure evil, a charlatan who controls his followers with a mixture of cunning and fervor.
While the novel depicts violent scenes, the author's lyrical tone sets this work apart from today's popular graphic fiction. Written from the perspective of human longing and suffering, the novel's enduring message is one of sadness and loss, accentuated by a slim hope of redemption and recovery for its most vulnerable characters.
The spirit of "A Land More Kind Than Home" will resonate with readers long after they finish this masterfully-told story.