Take a young boy with autism who has ‘seen too much’ and add one manipulative preacher that has the boy’s mother under his spell. Nothing good can come from that combination, and I have to admit, I couldn’t wait to read this book. I expected the subject matter to be enough to make it interesting. What I didn’t expect was the emotional journey the author took me on, and how the story would stay with me long after the reading.
In “A Land More Kind Than Home”, Wiley Cash transports the reader to a small, Southern town and into the lives of Jess and Christopher “Stump” Hall, two young boys whose mother is a member of a church ran by Pastor Carson Chambliss. When Stump sees his mother, Julie, in bed with the pastor, Chambliss decides it is time to free Stump of the demons that are at the root of his autism. In the process of trying to heal Stump, he is killed.
In the first chapter, Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife, describes the church and Pastor Chambliss in a way that immediately lets the reader know this is not your average church:
“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... 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 from there, the reader is constantly asking questions that cannot be answered.
|Wiley Cash, Kelly Gamble and Suzi Shumaker|
Cash's choice of narrators is one of the most brilliant aspects of this book. Adelaide has a history with the church, Chambliss and all of the characters, yet she isn't present at Stump's death and is unaware of the other events that lead to it. Sheriff Clem Barefield, who has a story of his own, is looking from the outside, and Jess Hall, Stump's younger brother, isn't mature enough to understand everything that has taken place. The reader never hears the thoughts of the evil Pastor Chambliss or Julie Hall, the one we would really like to sit down with and ask how she let this happen. In other words, Cash didn't give us everything, and in doing so, the story stays with you long after that last page.
Without giving a spoiler, I have to say the ending was heart breaking and when I first read it, a bit shocking. Now that I've thought about it more in depth (didn't I say it sticks with you?), it is disturbing in a way that something you can't quite understand tends to confuse you even more (kind of like how this paragraph has probably just confused you even more :). This is a book to read with your friends and discuss later---and the more opinions the better.
Visit Wiley Cash at wileycash.com
Follow him on Twitter @WileyCash
Buy "A Land More Kind Than Home"
Also, check out my mini rant about Julie Hall, the mother character in "A Land More Kind Than Home" on Suzi Shumaker's blog