by Wiley Cash
Paperback (22 Jan 2013), 336 pages.
Publisher: William Morrow
A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, 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.
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to - an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil - but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.
Told by three resonant and evocative characters - Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past - A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.
I sat there in the car with the gravel dust blowing across
the parking lot and saw the place for what it was, not what it
was right at that moment in the hot sunlight, but for what it
had been maybe twelve or fifteen years before: a real general store
with folks gathered around the lunch counter, a line of people
at the soda fountain, little children ordering ice cream of just about
every flavor you could think of, hard candy by the quarter pound,
moon pies and crackerjack and other things I hadn't thought
about tasting in years. And if I'd closed my eyes I could've seen
what the building had been forty or fifty years before that, back
when I was a young woman: a screen door slamming shut, oil
lamps lit and sputtering black smoke, dusty horses hitched to the
posts out front where the iceman unloaded every Wednesday afternoon, the last stop on his route before he headed up out of
the holler, the bed of his truck an inch deep with cold water.
Back before Carson Chambliss came and took down the advertisements and yanked out the old hitching posts and put up that
now-yellow newspaper in the front windows to keep folks from
looking in. All the way back before him and the deacons had
wheeled out the broken coolers on a dolly, filled the linoleum
with rows of folding chairs and electric floor fans that blew the
heat up in your face. If I'd kept my eyes closed I could've seen
all this lit by the dim light of a memory like a match struck in a
cave where the sun can't reach, but because I stared out through
my windshield and heard the cars and trucks whipping by on
the road behind me, I could see now that it wasn't nothing but a
simple concrete block building, and, except for the sign out by the
road, you couldn't even tell it was a church. And that was exactly
how Carson Chambliss wanted it.
As soon as Pastor Matthews caught cancer and died in 1975, Chambliss moved the church from up the river in Marshall, which ain't nothing but a little speck of town about an hour or so north of Asheville. That's when Chambliss put the sign out on the edge of the parking lot. He said it was a good thing to move like we did because the church in Marshall was just too big to feel the spirit in, and I reckon some folks believed him; I know some of us wanted to. But the truth was that half the people in the congregation left when Pastor Matthews died and there wasn't enough money coming in to keep us in that old building. The bank took it and sold it to a group of Presbyterians, just about all of them from outside Madison County, some of them not even from North Carolina. They've been in that building for ten years, and I reckon they're proud of it. They should be. It was a beautiful building when it was our church, and even though I ain't stepped foot in there since we moved out, I figure it probably still is.
The name of our congregation got changed too, from French Broad Church of Christ to River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. Under that new sign, right out there by the road, Chambliss lettered the words "Mark 16:17-18" in black paint, and that was just about all he felt led to preach on too, and that's why I had to do what I done. I'd seen enough, too much, and it was my time to go.
I'd seen people I'd known just about my whole life 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. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God. He made them think it was all right to take that dare if they believed. And just about the whole lot of them said, "Here I am, Lord. Come and take me if you get a mind to it. I'm ready if you are."
And I reckon they were ready, at least I hope so, because I saw a right good many of them get burned up and poisoned, and there wasn't a single one of them that would go see a doctor if they got sick or hurt. That's why the snake bites bothered me the most. Those copperheads and rattlers could only stand so much, especially with the music pounding like it did and all them folks dancing and hollering and falling out on the floor, kicking over chairs and laying their hands on each other. In all that time, right up until what happened with Christopher, the church hadn't ever had but one of them die from that carrying on either, at least only one I know about: Miss Molly Jameson, almost eleven years ago. She was seventy-nine when it happened, two years younger than I am now. I think it might've been a copperhead that got her.
Excerpted from A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. Copyright © 2012 by Wiley Cash. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Think about the epigraph the author chose to open the book and from which the novel's title derives. What is the significance of this particular quote? How does it set the novel's tone and mood? Explain what the title - "a land more kind than home" - signifies.
- The novel is told from three characters' perspectives. How does this add to the story and deepen it as it unfolds? How might it be different if it had been told from only one of the character's point of view?
- Talk about Carson Chambliss. Describe his character. Why does he have such a magnetic hold on his congregation, and especially on Julie? Is Julie a good mother? Can you understand why she behaved the way she did? Do you think she understood the truth of her son, Stump's fate? Why is Addie so afraid of him?
- How might the events of the story have unfolded differently if Jess had told his mother the truth about what she heard at the Sunday afternoon service?
- Describe this small North Carolina town in which the story takes place. What is it like? How does its size and remoteness influence the lives of those who call it home? Sheriff Clem Barfield is not native to Madison County. How does this impact the way he sees this place and its people?
- How can religion uplift a person's soul? How can it be corrupting influence? Julie considers herself to be a "good Christian woman." What do you think? Whether you are Christian or not, religious or not, what is your definition of a "good Christian?" Is anyone in the novel virtuous, and if so, in what way?
- Why did Addie pull the children out of Chambliss's services? Did she have any other options?
- When Jess asks his grandpa if Stump will be able to talk in heaven, Jimmy tells him, "Of course he will. We'll all be able to talk. And we'll be able to understand each other." What does his answer reveal about him and the world? What is he trying to teach Jess?
- Think about Jimmy Hall. What kind of relationship does she have with his son? What about with Sheriff Barefield?
- Can this novel be compared to a Shakespearean tragedy? If so, in what ways? Think about various stories and proverbs from the Bible. How are they reflected in the story?
- What role does nature and the natural world play in the novel?
- Addie believes that this place and its people will be saved in the wake of tragedy. Do you believe in salvation? What role does forgiveness play in this story? Do you think people can change for the better? What about Jimmy Hall? How do the novel's events impact his relationship with the sheriff and with his grandson, Jess?
- Think about the novel's themes: revenge, faith, betrayal, goodness and evil, forgiveness and understanding. Choose a character and show how these themes are demonstrated through his or her life.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of William Morrow. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
With 31 out of 32 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, Wiley Cash's debut, A Land More Kind Than Home, is a top pick among BookBrowse readers! Here's what they have to say:
A Land More Kind Than Home is, without a doubt, one of the absolute BEST books that I have read. It is so compelling... so beautifully written, I found myself going over most of it twice - once for the gripping story and again for the language. His words are just so mesmerizing (Debra C). Included in the mix: snake-handling, a church closed off to the public with paper on the windows, a child caught in the midst of adult drama, and a sheriff fighting demons of his own. Wiley Cash is able to create a tension that both enthralls and exasperates (Becky M). The writing is exceptional; the descriptions, evocative of time and place; the voices, pitch perfect. From the first sentence, this was a book I couldn't put down. It is an amazing first novel (Dorothy M). Do yourself a favor and read this book! It's a must-read and a story that I will not soon forget (Daniel A).
Some readers enjoyed Cash's well-drawn characters and descriptive language:
Using three narrators, the author takes a single story and multiplies its impact, effectively building suspense by means of both structure and language. I found myself racing through the book to the next revelation and finished it in a single day (Michele W). Appalachian "folk voice" can be really difficult to capture yet so beautiful when done right (Barbie R). This book speaks powerfully and truthfully to the human condition with rich, honest characterizations and dialogue (Linda N). Wiley Cash has created unforgettable characters that are multidimensional (Viqui G).
While others were drawn to the story's suspense and mysterious Appalachian setting:
What a delightful book to review. Wiley Cash writes with such clarity that, as you turn the pages, you feel like you're stepping into beautiful North Carolina - a place where life flows at a much slower pace (Mona B). This is a book about family... and ultimately how hope might come from tragedy. It aptly reveals small-town rural Appalachian life and the social influence of religion on every aspect of society (Joyce K). The story is excellent, the tension builds chapter after chapter... it's very much recommended (Catherine H). This is a book that makes you think about religion and secrecy and how bad that combination can turn out to be. I was thinking about this story long after I finished the book. I look forward to future novels by Wiley Cash (Jennifer B).
However, a couple people found room for minor improvements:
The language of this book is evocative and the setting and characterizations felt authentic, but I found the character development slow and the narrative difficult to follow. Dividing the story telling between different narrators is not an unusual literary tool, but in this instance the transitions derailed the progress of the story and made it difficult for me to follow the narrative... I really wanted to like this book but, in the end, I could not get past the mechanics of the telling to just enjoy the story (Bette C). This novel leaves a number of questions unanswered - but that's its only weakness (Laura P).
But the majority of reviewers were as enthusiastic as Lesley M:
I enjoyed reading this book a great deal. The characters are well defined, and I felt as if I really knew and sympathized with them. The setting added to the plot of the story; stormy, gray and out of control. The pace of the novel moved along well, and I didn't want to put it down.
Who should read this book?:
A Land More Kind Than Home will make a very good book club selection, as it will spark intense discussions of a variety of themes: religion, family, love, and loss (V.W.). I highly recommend this novel for lovers of Southern fiction - it is deep, dark, and haunting (Teresa R). I recommend it for anyone who likes a tale with strong characters in a rural setting with a touch of suspense (Lesley M).
Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
The languid atmosphere seduces, and Cash's fine first effort pulls the reader into a shadowy, tormented world where wolves prowl in the guise of sheep.
An evocative work about love, fate and redemption.
Starred Review. As lyrical, beautiful, and uncomplicated as the classic ballads of Appalachia, Cash's first novel is a tragic story of misplaced faith and love gone wrong... In a style reminiscent of Tom Franklin and John Hart, Cash captures the reader's imagination.
Gail Godwin, author of Evensong and The Finishing School
A Land More Kind Than Home has great cumulative power. Before I knew it I was grabbed by the ankle and pulled down into a full-blown Greek tragedy. I didn't sleep well after I finished it because I kept thinking. All childhoods are not the same. Cruelty and innocence dwell together and always will. I can just imagine the intense work - and the love - that has gone into this.
Rated of 5
by Becky H
A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME
Wiley Cash has a way with words. He can make you see a rain storm or love with equal clarity. In A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME he has written a beautiful elegy for love and death, faith and fear, condemnation and redemption. Told in three very different voices, the tale unfolds in starts and pauses and then backtracks on to itself. Occasionally Cash loses his way and the story loses momentum. But stick with him because in the pulsing end, you will know you have found a wonderful new voice.
A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME follows the inhabitants of a small back country Appalachian community. They include an outsider Sheriff and the drunk the sheriff blames for his son's death, the drunk's son and his church obsessed wife, their two young sons - one a mute, a spellbinding preacher with a hidden past and the area's "healer" woman. Cash is point perfect in detailing the culture of Appalachia, the speech patterns of his characters and an atmosphere of foreboding.
Book groups will find a wealth of topics including family dynamics, faith and faith that becomes oppressive, guilt and how it can poison relationships, fear of the unknown, outsiders, understanding disabilities, alcoholism, infidelity, and secrets.
Rated of 5
by Louise J
Couldn't Put It Down!
The author did an excellent job at conveying to the reader the emotions that people show when they’re riled up and in the spirit of the moment and how things can be over-looked when caught up in the emotion packed moment of loud music, hand clapping and rattlesnakes. A family is shattered, a town has hung its head in shame, and a lot of healing needs to take place in this small town of Marshall, North Carolina.
For a debut novel, Wiley Cash has written a book that grabs you, pulls you and doesn’t release its grip until the very unexpected end. I’ll be looking for more of this authors work and recommending this novel to my friends.
Rated of 5
by Diane S.
A Land More Kind Than Home
My goodness but this book was fantastic! His use of local color and dialect, his descriptions, his use of the weather to ratchet up the tension, and all this from a first time author. The town midwife, Adelaide, who sees it as her job to protect the children, the sheriff, who has plenty of tragedy in his own life, and the two young boys, Jess, who is in third grade, and his older but mute brother, Christopher. When evil comes to their small Appalachian town in the form of itinerant preacher, Chambliss, events are set in motion that will leave few unscathed. Two boys would pay for their natural curiosity in a way that is out of all proportion to their misdeed. I knew this story drew me in when I found myself wanting to grab one of the characters and tell them not to do it. I felt the tension in the pit of my stomach, like the way one feels before the big drop on a roller coaster. Yet in ends in a note of hope and a looking forward to that I would not have thought possible. Absolutely gripping!
Rated of 5
by Carmen S. (Elkins, Arkansas)
You won't be able to put it down
A gripping well told story with memorable characters that you won't be able to put down. Some of these characters will haunt you.
Rated of 5
by Sunni W. (Hilton Head Island, SC)
What's Not to Like
Although this turned out not to be the kind of book I ordinarily would read, it is an interesting read and characters are well-developed. For me, there's a lack of riveting events to hold my attention, so I wouldn't label it a "can't put it down" book but it's a good one to have along on a long plane ride, especially if you have a couple of hours layover in an airport!
Rated of 5
by Kathleen W. (New Brighton,, MN)
What goes around comes around or be careful what you wish for!
I completed A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME a few weeks ago and have thought about it extensively EVER SINCE. This novel is full of metaphors which I love. I also find the strategy of different character chapter narrators to be especially effective in this particular book considering all the parallel story lines. I was most intrigued by the subject matter, some of which concerned the place of organized religion in our lives. John Meachem, on CHARLIE ROSE recently, addressed the issue of whether religion should be in the hands of the religious. How timely an answer is A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME! This is an absolutely worthwhile read. Please highly consider it.
Rated of 5
by Brenda S. (Forest Hill, MD)
A Land More Kind Than Home
A Land More Kind Than Home is one of the best stories I have read in some time. It definitely is a "waking up with dark circles" worthy book to read!
I like how the author chose to tell the story from three different voices - the young son, Jess, the sheriff of the small town; Clem, and Adelaide; a neighbor who knows everyone and pretty much everything that is going on in this town - she helps the people in this town in many ways - she is the town midwife, watches the children at the church on Sundays, and offers her home to others.
This story is a heartwrenching story about a dysfunctional town in the mountainous region of North Carolina and a young family that lives there. Having two sons of my own and also having taught 9 year olds, I wanted to just enter the story to give a big hug to console Jess, the son with so much sadness and worry upon his young shoulders.
Wiley Cash through his phenomenal use of descriptive words was able to make me feel like I knew the characters personally and provided a visual for me to imagine the setting.
I especially loved the part when Jess gets the quiet box that belonged to Stump and finds the items inside that brought peace to his brother.
I am so angry that a so-called pastor could manipulate the people in the town to believe that what they were doing was for the good. What were they thinking? Who would want to attend a church that actually covers the windows so that outsiders aren't allowed to look in. It brings back memories of that group of people in Jonestown that drank poison and lost their lives because Reverend Jim Jones told them to do so.
Wiley Cash needs to take a bow because I give him a standing ovation for his beautifully written debut novel. I highly recommend that you add this book to your list to read!
Rated of 5
by V. W. (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
A Land More Kind Than Home
This was a very enjoyable book. It reminded me of other books I have read that involved rural, mountain people however the plot was a gripping and emotional one. The author was able to masterfully tell his story through the narration of three characters: a young boy forced to grow up too rapidly, an old woman who was wise but lacked the power to totally intervene, and the sheriff who was an outsider in the community committed to doing what is right but with his own past sorrows.
I think that this would make a very good book club book as it would spark intense discussion of a variety of themes concerning religion, family, love, and loss.
In a letter to readers, Wiley Cash describes what it was like working with the inspirational Ernest J. Gaines at a fiction workshop in Lafayette, Louisiana. He writes:
I began writing A Land More Kind Than Home while working on my Ph.D. at the University of Louisiana, where I spent five long years sweating, celebrating Mardi Gras, and missing the mountains of North Carolina. While living in Lafayette, I took a fiction workshop with Ernest J. Gaines, who taught me that by writing about home I could recreate that place no matter where I lived. Gaines made this clear to me one afternoon while we were visiting an old cemetery near the plantation where he was born. He pointed to a grave marker and said, "You remember Snookum from A Gathering of Old Men? He's buried right over there." While none of the characters in A Land More Kind Than Home are based on people who actually existed, they're all amalgams of the types of people I knew growing up. In creating these people and the place they live I got to watch the sun split the mist on the ridges above the French Broad River. From my desk in Louisiana I pondered the silence of snow covered fields. While living in a place that experiences only summer and fall, I watched the green buds sprout on the red maples, and I was there when their leaves began to shrivel before giving way to the wind. I lived in two places at once, and it was wonderful.
Ernest J. Gaines's inspirational advice was a long time in the making. He was born on January 15, 1933 in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, on the River Lake Plantation. According to The Academy of Achievement, "His ancestors had lived on the same plantation since slavery, remaining after emancipation to work the land as sharecroppers. Gaines and his family lived in the houses, much expanded, that had once served as slave quarters. His parents separated when he was eight; the strongest adult influence in his childhood was a great aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, crippled from birth, who crawled from kitchen to the family's garden patch, growing and preparing food, and caring for him and for six of his brothers and sisters."
He grew up in a story-telling family, and attended classes in a single room of the local black church. However, the school was only open for half the year, and Gaines and the other children were called upon to work in the fields harvesting crops. As he got older, "Pointe Coupee Parish offered no public high school to its black citizens. For three years, Gaines attended St. Augustine's School, a segregated Catholic school in the parish seat at New Roads, Louisiana." He quickly came to love literature, 19th century Russian writers in particular, and - "finding no literature that directly portrayed the life of African Americans in the rural South" - he soon began writing his own stories.
His work earned him admission to Stanford, and in 1964 he published his first novel, Catherine Carmier. Later, in 1967 he published his second novel, Of Love and Dust, which was warmly received. In 1968 he penned a collection of stories, Bloodline, and in it his distinct literary style began to show. In 1971 he wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a "first-person narrative of a fictional 110-year-old woman, born in slavery, who lives to see the stirrings of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Her story led readers through a century of African American life." It was made into an Emmy-winning television show in 1974, and Gaines's fame skyrocketed.
Soon after, he received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and in 1993 he was selected for a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." All the while, he continued to write and published numerous books, including A Gathering of Old Men. His most famous novel, A Lesson Before Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and was made into an Emmy-winning television show in 1999. As reported by the Academy of Achievement, "In addition to his other honors, Ernest Gaines has been awarded the National Humanities Medal of the United States, and is a Chevalier of France's Order of Arts and Letters. In 2007, the Baton Rouge Foundation established the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence to recognize new fiction by African American authors." He is currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.
Click on the video below to hear Ernest J. Gaines talk about his background and personal history as well as his critically acclaimed novel, A Lesson Before Dying.