Author One-on-One: Wiley Cash and Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani: First and foremost I’d like to congratulate you on the success of your debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home. As a writer, I know that inspiration can come from many different places— a quote, a childhood experience, the sky is the limit. What inspired you to write this novel?
Wiley Cash: Thanks, Adriana. I’d like to congratulate you on the success of The Shoemaker’s Wife. The inspiration for this novel kind of found me. In the fall of 2003 I left North Carolina and moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, to attend graduate school. One night, in a class on African-American literature, my professor brought in a news story about a young African-American boy with autism who was smothered in a healing service on the south side of Chicago. I found the story incredibly tragic, but I was also interested in a community of believers that would literally believe something to death. I felt compelled to tell this boy’s story and the story of the community surrounding him.
AT:Truth be told, I’m a big fan of the ’80s—big hair, some of the best music of all time—what’s not to like! Why did you choose to set your novel during this era? Do you see this particular time period as having an important resonance for contemporary America?
WC: The easiest answer is that Jess Hall, one of my three narrators, is nine years old in 1986. I was nine in 1986, and it was easy for me to remember how I viewed the world as a nine year old. But I soon realized that the ’80s were a very complicated decade, and I have clear memories of trying to make sense of a lot of the things that I was seeing and hearing at church, at school, and at home.
When I sat down to write A Land More Kind Than Home I recalled how things seemed in the church and in the community when I was a kid, and I balanced that seeming against the reality of being. This conflict between seeming and being—not just in churches but in families as well—is what drives much of the novel.
AT: One of the things I love most about this novel is that it’s told from very different perspectives—from a young boy to a woman in her eighties to a middle-aged sheriff. As readers can see from your author photo you don’t fit any of these criteria. Did you find it difficult to write from such different viewpoints?
WC: At first it was difficult to imagine the role each of these narrators would play in the novel. As I grew to know these characters better, I realized that each possessed a particular knowledge about the tragedy involving the young boy, and I understood that each of them viewed it from a very different perspective. This story belongs to the community, and I had to let the community tell it.
AT: I’m a huge fan of book clubs. In my mind, there’s nothing better than getting together to discuss your favorite book over a glass of wine. Are there any particular themes that book clubs might enjoy exploring in your book?
WC: I think book clubs are wonderful too, and there are a lot of issues in A Land More Kind Than Home for book clubs to discuss: the power of faith, community responsibility, family secrets, marriage and infidelity. A lot of book clubs have wanted to talk about the role of the boys’ mother in the novel: Was she a good mother who believed her son could be healed, or was she a bad mother who invited tragedy upon her family?
“Cash adeptly captures the rhythms of Appalachian speech, narrating his atmospheric novel in the voices of three characters . . . The story has elements of a thriller, but Cash is ultimately interested in how unscrupulous individuals can bend decent people to their own dark ends.” (Washington Post)
“Absorbing . . . Cash uses well-placed flashbacks to flesh out his characters . . . and to illuminate a familiar truth of Southern lit: Many are the ways that fathers fail their sons.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“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.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“This book will knock your socks off. It’s so good to read a first novel that sings with talent. Wiley Cash has a beautifully written hit on his hands.” (Clyde Edgerton, author of The Night Train)
“A riveting story! The writing is bold, daring, graceful, and engrossing.” (Bobbie Ann Mason, author of In Country)
“I try to state the truth and dislike flinging superlatives about with mad abandon, but I have been so deeply impressed by this novel that only superlatives can convey the tenor of my thought: this is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read.” (Fred Chappell, author of Brighten the Corner Where You Are)
“This novel has great cumulative power. Before I knew it I was grabbed by the ankle and pulled down into a full-blown Greek tragedy.” (Gail Godwin, author of Evensong)
“The first thing that struck me about Wiley’s novel is the beautiful prose: the narrative is strong, clean, direct and economical. . . . I think this could be the beginning of a long, fruitful career.” (Ernest J. Gaines, author of A Lesson Before Dying)
“Cash’s debut novel explores Faulkner-O’Connor country . . . As lean and spare as a mountain ballad, Cash’s novel resonates perfectly, so much so that it could easily have been expanded to epic proportions. An evocative work about love, fate and redemption.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A Land More Kind Than Home is a powerfully moving debut that reads as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
“A lyrical, poignant debut . . . In the mode of John Hart, Tom Franklin, and early Pat Conroy, A Land More Kind Than Home explores the power of forgiveness [and] the strength of family bonds.” (Florida Sun-Sentinel)
“Wiley Cash’s novel embeds a tender coming-of-age story within a suspense-filled thriller. . . . [A] clear-sighted, graceful debut.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“So beautifully written that you’ll be torn about how fast to read it. This is great, gothic Southern fiction.” (NPR)