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A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

Debut novel

Published 2012; 325 pages

I'm not sure how to classify this novel. Is something set in the 1980s consider historical? It didn't feel steeped in history. It's not really a mystery because you know who does what to whom. It's not really a thriller because there's no action or big mystery. And yet, in the big picture, it's a bit of all of them.

First Sentence: "I sat there in the car with the gravel dust blowing across the parking lot and saw the place for what it was, not what it was right at that moment in the hot sunlight, but for what it had been maybe twelve or fifteen years before: a real general store with folks gathered around the lunch counter, a line of people at the soda fountain, little children ordering ice cream of just about every flavor you could think of, hard candy by the quarter pound, moon pies and crackerjack and other things I hadn't thought about tasting in years."


Set in 1980s rural N. Carolina in the hills of Appalachia, it's the story of 9 year old Jess, a little boy who will face major trauma and tragedy this summer. He's very protective of his older brother who is a mute (and seems slightly autistic?); his mom has become enamored of the pastor of the local cultish church and his dad works hard and is sort of oblivious - until he isn't.

Chapters alternating between three different first person narrators gives the story a fullness of detail. Jess's viewpoint covers all the helplessness and sadness of a little boy whose life is falling apart around him. 80 year old Adelaide is the community's midwife and holistic healer, keeper of secrets and from her perspective we get the town's history and the regret carried by someone who feels like they should have helped more. Clem is the 60ish year old sheriff who saw the evil in town but left it alone and the results of that neglect are a terrible tragedy that he regrets. The other "main" character is the 'evil' quasi-pastor of a fundamentalist church (cult?) who is charismatic and cajoles and bullies his followers into faith healings, handling of snakes, etc. Tragedy follows him, and yet he continues to survive.

During one fateful afternoon of killing time in the heat, the boys snoop and see something they shouldn't. From there events escalate out of control with enough pain and regret for everyone. I'm not going to be more specific because I don't want to give away too much and spoil the story.


A Land More Kind Than Home is sad, frustrating, a bit grim, and even when you can see where things are headed, it's like watching a car can't look away. I found it very evocative of the place and era and of a small, rural town in N. Carolina.

The author picked a difficult structure for a debut novel and I think he mostly pulled it off. Telling a story from three first person viewpoints and getting the voicing down for a 9 year old, 60 year old, and 80 year old is challenging and flowed well.

It was a bit of a slow start for me and then I was so caught up in Jess's story that I easily finished the book. There was a bit of a surprise at the end and it was a pretty tidy wrap up which felt a bit unsatisfying, but still a really well told story.

This book works for my COYER challenge 21/54 and Beat the Backlist: 6 words in title. See Challenge tab at top of page to track with me.

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