A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash is a compelling story about extreme religious fundamentalism and family secrets set in Appalachia in the 1980’s. Twelve year old Christopher (“Stump”) is mysteriously killed during a healing service at a fundamentalist church where snake handling and drinking poison are the norm. The story is told from the point of view of three characters: a woman in her 80’s, the sheriff in his 50’s who is investigating the death, and Stump’s 9-year-old brother Jess. The voices of the narrators are gripping as their experiences with the shady con-artist of a preacher are explored from different perspectives. Adelaide, the elderly woman who served as the town’s midwife and Sunday school teacher, sees the preacher for the sociopath that he truly is. The sheriff uncovers the preacher’s real past but he suffers from the impact of his own personal tragedy which colors his judgment. The boy, Jess, is a fabulous narrator. His level of development limits his understanding of the subtle adult actions, but this viewpoint makes the revelations all the more heartbreaking. Wiley Cash is a fine writer; he captures the cadence and the feeling of a rural North Carolina mountain community without resorting to stereotype. The setting is beautifully portrayed and the language at times is breathtaking. There are moments when his idyllic descriptions get away from him and he goes on for paragraphs about some mundane activity, but his love for his characters and setting is obvious. Portions of this story are disturbing and unnerving, and these do jolt the reader. The authenticity of emotion is nicely portrayed, though, and the narrative arc is extremely satisfying. I strongly recommend the book.
Anthony Hains is a horror & speculative fiction writer.