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A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel Hardcover – April 17, 2012
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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)
More About the Author
The inspiration for This Dark Road to Mercy began with a beautiful story my wife told me about her childhood, and this led me to recall a tragic story from my own past. I'll begin by sharing the story I heard, and then I'll tell you about the story I already knew.
According to my wife, when she was a little girl she was an incredibly talented baseball player, but she had only one weakness in her game: she didn't know how to slide into base. To remedy this, after her father arrived home from work in the summertime, the two of them would walk to the baseball field behind the grade school she attended, and they'd take turns sliding into third base, her father lending his encouragement and offering tips to help her feel more comfortable.
I invite you to picture the image she painted for me: it's dusk on a summer evening in the American South; a father and his daughter are alone on an empty baseball field, taking turns sliding into base; the sound of crickets rises from the woods on the edge of the field; fireflies glow in the dusk; a car quietly passes on the road in front of the baseball field and slows down for a moment, taking in the scene. The car's windows are down and you are inside it: you can hear the crickets, you can feel the warm, humid air, and when you look out toward the baseball field, what do you see?
My wife's story is an emotionally touching story to hear, and I wanted to write about that girl and her father, but I knew it wouldn't necessarily make for a compelling read. Readers like more complications, more drama, less innocence and purity and much less simplicity. So I reimagined the scene: the little girl is out there playing ball with her friends one day after school, and when she slides into third base she stands up, dusts herself off, and spies her father sitting up in the stands, watching her. All she can think is Why is that loser here?
When it came time to write my second novel after the publication of A Land More Kind Than Home, I returned to the story my wife had told me, and I once again conjured the image of the lone girl and her loser father, and I thought of ways to complicate it. I wondered if this girl had a younger sibling she had to care for, and it was then that I remembered two young girls I'd known growing up in North Carolina. They were foster children, and when I met them they were being raised by an elderly couple that went to my church. The oldest girl was my age, and her sister was about three years younger. I knew them for a few years, but eventually they went back to live with their birth mother, and I never saw them again because we didn't go to the same school.
A few years later, I heard the girls' names on the local news; they'd been murdered by their boyfriends, two grown men who suspected the sisters of stealing drugs from them. The oldest was fifteen, and her sister was twelve. The two men had picked the girls up at their mother's home the night before and driven them out into the country. There, at the base of a mountain, they cut the girls' throats, buried them in shallow graves, and covered their bodies with lime.
I invite you to picture the image that has been in my mind for years: it's well past dark on a weeknight in the American South; two young sisters are riding in a truck with their much older boyfriends, both of whom seem nervous and don't have much to say; the streets are empty, and the girls hear the sound of the truck's tires as they move from pavement to gravel and then to dirt; the driver parks the truck and tells the two sisters to get out.
After almost twenty years, I found that I couldn't stop thinking about those two little girls and the tragedy that had befallen them. I wondered about their lives, about an adult who would allow minor girls to date grown men, about grown men who would murder children in cold blood.
Before I knew it, the story of the two sisters merged with the story my wife had told me, and I began to add my own fictive elements: two sisters are languishing in foster care; their missing father returns and kidnaps them, desperately hoping for another chance at raising his family. But things can't be that simple. Hot on the father's trail are two very different men: a violent bounty hunter with a years' old vendetta and an ex-cop who's the girls' court-appointed guardian.
This Dark Road to Mercy was inspired by both beauty and tragedy, innocence and evil, and these conflicting elements drive the novel. The two girls in my novel don't suffer the same fate as the two sisters I once knew, but they nonetheless are forced into an adult world before they're emotionally prepared to confront it, and their lives will never be the same. But, at its core, the book is about mercy, and that's what the two sisters in my novel are shown. I only wish that the two young girls I knew could've been shown the same mercy. Their tragedy haunts me still.
Top Customer Reviews
The narrative is told in four voices: A ten year old boy (Jess), his father, the sheriff and an old wise woman who was the first to recognize the evil. The centerpiece of the novel is a twelve year old mute boy, Jess's older brother, nick-named "Stump". Despite the efforts of Jess and the old lady to protect Stump and the love of his father and mother, things go awry for the boy and all the characters have to deal with it.
All of the characters are compelling. The boys' grandfather joins the cast about half-way into the story and brings the sheriff and the plot full circle. Must the past repeat itself? Is there redemption? The novel could be a book club gold mine.
This is a very well-written compelling book filled with raw emotions that only familial love and fanatic religion can bring. The characters, especially the narrators are very memorable. Just a warning: there are not a lot of smiles.
Highly recommended. This may be the kind of book that sticks so well that upon reflection, I'd give it five stars.
The author, Wiley Cash, has written a debut novel unlike anything I have ever read, and I hope that this unbelievably powerful novel gets the attention from the reading public that it deserves. I for one will be talking about it to everyone I know.
The story is told in three voices - Adelaide Lyle, the elderly midwife, protector of the children she's delivered over the years; Jess Hall, nine year old boy who loves his parents and his older brother, Stump, who is non-verbal and autistic, and who are all major characters in this tale; and then there is Clem Barefield, sheriff and a man of integrity, with painful memories of his past.
The River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following plays a major role in the story also. Foursquare gospel Pentecostal with all the trappings - faith healings, speaking in tongues, snake handling, other spiritual gifts - led by sociopathic Pastor Carson Chambliss.
And the story starts, builds, and culminates in tragedy because Jess and Stump, two curious young boys, see something they shouldn't and start a landslide of tragic events.
Cash has quite a knack with drawing utterly believable characters who use stunningly spare but effective dialogue, drawing the reader (sometimes unwillingly) deeply into this tragic story.
I was surprised by this book. I did not expect the high quality of writing in this first effort by Cash or my gut response to the story. It brought to mind The Last Child by John Hart; ...Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have to say this is one of the saddest books I have ever read. It was written well, beautifully even. But it is so so sad. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Barbara Butler
This is a well written story of innocent lives destroyed by evil disguised as the word of God. The rhythms of speech and life in the hills of North Carolina are faithfully... Read morePublished 1 day ago by Juli
Great storyline and character development. This book drew me in and was difficult to put down between readings. Skilled writing, especially for a new author.Published 2 days ago by Nancy S. Bice
Good book. Reminded me of the pace of To Kill A Mockingbird. Like the characters. There could've been more detail added to all parts of the story to give it more depth, but it... Read morePublished 4 days ago by nano-nadoo
Excellent representation of Appalachian culture! I loved every page!Published 12 days ago by Amazon Customer
I really enjoyed this book. I read it quickly, couldn't put it down. Loved it.Published 12 days ago by Bri
Loved the characters in this book - really entertaining n believable
Well developed characters that read like to kill a mockingbirf
The book is not an easy read due to the main story lines being so dark...death of an autistic child, snake handling, alcoholism, etc. Read morePublished 15 days ago by Amazon Customer