“A Land More Kind Than Home” by Wiley Cash is a fine piece of Southern writing. Set in the mountains of North Carolina, it is the story of what happens to a community when some of its members are led into the darker recesses of Christianity by a preacher who is both secretive and controlling. It’s much more than that, of course; for me, at its core it’s a story of fathers and sons, and how history that stretches over a lifetime can color events of the present day.
The narrative is shared by three people: an old woman, the sheriff of the county, and a nine-year-old boy. The woman, a matriarch of the community, participates in the unfolding events from the perspective of one who has helped many of the locals into the world and recognizes the danger posed by the preacher more quickly and accurately than most. She speaks with the authority of age, and doesn’t have time to waste being anything but honest. The sheriff, carrying his own burdens and connections with the townspeople, balances the demand for privacy of the people he serves with his sense of duty to the county as a whole. The little boy, a third grader, watches the events unfold and gets swept up in them without any more than a child’s understanding of the importance of the role he plays.
Cash’s understanding of the Appalachian culture rings true, as does his command of the language. The descriptions of sights, sounds, and smells are highly evocative. I have spent my life in the shadow of the Smokies; this man knows what he’s talking about, and chooses his words so carefully and well that I scarcely have to close my eyes to put myself in the moment. I listened to the book on CD, read by three actors, and even though it is a dark story, it was a pleasure to experience. I don’t remember a false step or wasted paragraph.