Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Once Again, To the Dark Side of Human Nature

The gals at Harper Collins work tirelessly to promote their favorite new writers through their e-newsletter, webinars, and tweets. Virginia Stanley is one of my heroes. She truly has a passion for authors and for reading. So when she says "you MUST get this book," well, I listen.

A Land More Kind than Home (what a gorgeous title) is a first novel by a young man named Wiley Cash, an English professor originally from North Carolina. This book left me feeling empty, devastated, and hoping beyond hope that there wasn't one iota of biographical material in this tale of Shakespearean dimensions.

I'm a firm believer in the destruction that religion has wrought over the centuries so you might think that I could just blow off this tale of a mesmerizing preacher named Pastor Carson Chambliss as a kind of cosmic joke. You'd be wrong. He's terrifying because he's so real and frankly, because good, smart people get sucked into the hypnotizing power of men like this every day. Sometimes the damage is irreversible.

Carson Chambliss arrived in the little North Carolina town from out of the blue. He seemed "heaven sent" since the former beloved pastor has just passed with cancer and the people were directionless and ripe for the picking. No one except old Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife, thought it odd when Chambliss took over the building on the main drag, covered all the windows with newspaper to eliminate the light of day - an obvious metaphor - and began holding spirited services that included speaking in tongues, fainting, and tests of faith involving snakes.

Eight year old Jess Hall is a perfect storyteller, because he sees what happened with the clarity of the young. He and his older brother, unfortunately nicknamed Stump because he was born mute, have an idyllic country life, fishing in the brook, catching tadpoles, outdoors from morning til night. Idyllic, that is, until the day Stump climbs onto the rain barrel to see what's going on in mom's bedroom, a typically innocent thing that kids do but that sets in motion a series of catastrophic events that made my stomach queasy.

Wiley Cash has crafted such a sophisticated first novel that it takes one's breath away. That's been happening to me a lot lately. The sense of place, the sinister mood, the finely drawn characters, so real and so flawed, fairly jump off the page. Having been raised in a small town, I recognize the way each character's back story, sheriff Clem Barefield, Jess's folks, Julie and Ben Hall, and Ben's prodigal dad Jimmy, plays out in this tragedy of epic proportions.

Yes, I need to lighten up for a while. I'm currently enjoying a year in Paris with romance writer Eloise James and her family. More on that this weekend. Then I'll be off to Venice with Chris Ewan's "good thief." How about you? What have you read and enjoyed lately?


TooManyBooks said...

Loved The Expats. Reading Heft now & loving it. Next up is Cash's book. We're off to the Players Tournament tomorrow, so I probably won't get much reading done!

Sallyb said...

Have a great time, I'll try to catch you on TV this weekend! Who will you be following?