“For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.”
Thoughts: Throughout history, “home” has been considered the one idealized safe haven in a dangerous world. It is supposed to be the one place that allows one to heal one’s wounds – mental, spiritual, and physical – and it is the one place filled with people who are supposed to provide unconditional love. Yet, as everyone knows, “supposed to” does not mean “does”, and there is a reason why most adults dread the idea of going home again. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash explores this idea of a home that is more dangerous than protective, in which parents and adults are too caught up in their own dramas to pay appropriate attention to or provide the necessary nurturing to their children, and in which it is the children who pay the ultimate price for this lack of focus.
Much of the drama and tension occurs because of the novel’s location. Set in a small, backwoods village in the Appalachian mountains, the backdrop feels more historical than contemporary. This creates a misleading sense of complaisancy within a reader, as one pretends that nothing so archaic could possibly occur in this day and age. However, that in and of itself creates much of a reader’s horror as one realizes that there are hundreds of small towns and villages in the country that still hold such old-fashioned and dangerous belief systems. Once a reader understands this, it is a simple jump to realizing that such a horrible situation could all too easily occur even today.
The horror that builds within the novel is due in part with the confusing and somewhat misleading sense of time and place throughout the story. It is also due to the not-so-unique manipulations and power struggles of men. Of the three main voices, Jess should be the one truly innocent voice, as he really does not understand everything he sees and hears, but even he knows that he should have shared certain information with adults immediately. Meanwhile, both Adelaide and Clem understand that something is not quite right within the main church and fail to do anything about it until it is too late. Particularly agonizing is Adelaide’s direct knowledge of what occurs behind the closed windows each Sunday and her failure to take any more direct actions against the preacher or his flock. This lack of action from all of the characters makes Carson’s insidious struggle to maintain power over his flock that much darker and more disturbing.
As the three main voices in the novel, Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall do an excellent job capturing the nuances of their individual characters. Mark Bramhall, as always, excels with the down-to-earth voice of reason and is ideal as the rough-and-tumble Sheriff Clem Barefield with his past of loss and despair. Lorna Raver as Adelaide Lyle has the appropriately rough-hued voice that denotes the doubt, frustrations, and concerns of an elderly woman trying to make right without completely rocking the boat. It is Nick Sullivan’s personalization of Jess Hall, however, that steals the show. Mr. Sullivan depicts the innocence and confusion of a nine-year-old boy not quite certain of the situations he observes with great aplomb. More importantly, he does so without sounding patronizing or trite. Together, the three voices blend perfectly to present the emotional turmoil surrounding Stump’s mysterious death and its aftermath.
A Land More Kind Than Home is deceptively simple, largely due to the fact that one of the key witnesses is the seemingly unreliable viewpoint of a confused boy. Rest assured however, the story is anything but simple. Told through three very singular voices, the plot unfolds slowly but never too slowly that a reader becomes impatient or restless. Rather, there is a building tension that occurs as a result of the methodical pacing. A reader is swept along with the sense of horror that also develops as a reader fits together the puzzle pieces and the picture of the truth becomes crystal clear. Once the final piece is in place, a reader is left with the stark reality of the true dangers of misplaced religious fervor. A Land More Kind Than Home is a story that will continue to haunt readers with its authentic voices, beautiful imagery, and chilling depiction of a man using the power of the pulpit to achieve his own gain.
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.