“A Land More Kind Than Home” may well be one of the most beautiful, insightful, and gritty novels I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a rare thing for a book to take so far out of your range of experiences and hook you almost immediately, and this novel does exactly that, employing a cast of some of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen in ages. The focus is religion-gone-badly-awry and ignorance, with tragedy as a result, but never does it seem preachy or dicdactic.
Jess Hall is a precocious nine-year-old boy who is expected by default to take his thirteen-year-old, significantly Autistic brother Christopher (AKA Stump) everywhere he goes. The miracle of Jess’ character is that he doesn’t resent Stump in the least, as many young protagonists who serve as makeshift caretakers for their disabled siblings are. Jess and the gentle but entirely non-verbal Stump are as close as brothers can be expected to be, and they share a special bond that Jess doesn’t maintain with anyone else. Together they chase fireflies, catch salamanders, and amuse themselves exploring their rural North Carolina landscape.
Jess and Stump’s mom Julie is basically well-intentioned but a bit of an idiot, to be honest. She spends her time at the Baptist Church run by a shady and mysterious figure by the name of Carson Chambliss. The worshippers speak in tongues and dabble in snake-handling (AKA generally dodgy stuff,) and Jess’ atheistic pop Ben will have nothing to do with the diseased goings-on within the church. But when Jess and Stump catch wind of something they shouldn’t it is Stump who pays dearly.
The book is narrated by three POV characters- Jess, who is in too deep in the world of adults and still doesn’t entirely understand their affairs, is the center of the drama and arguably the lead. Adelaide Lyle is a good Christian and a very old lady who kind of also serves as the town wise woman. Clem Barefield is the sheriff, past his prime and dealing with his own demons. Resentments simmer in the small NC town of Marshall and explode into violent climactic confrontation.
I found the writing to be beautiful and literary without making a big show of itself (i.e. readable.) The narrative immediately grabs your attention as Addie recounts confronting Chambliss and being put in a threatening situation by the batty self-proclaimed prophet. If you’re interested in how “A Land More Kind Than Home” depicts Autism Spectrum Disorders, I found prose on Stump’s condition to be well-written and sensitively rendered.
On a side note, can I just say how much I wanted to shake Julie. I’ve NEVER seen a character in a book act as obtuse as she did. In the end, I found her almost as at fault in her ignorance as Chambliss was in his psychopathy. NO sympathy for her by the end of this novel. I thought all three POV’s worked extremely well to give us a multi-dimensional look into the story.
I want to read Wiley Cash’s second book “This Dark Road to Mercy” as soon as possible. “A Land More Kind Than Home” is a rollicking good read and a beautiful piece of literature in its own right.