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This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

THis Dark Road to Mercy

Twelve-year-old foster child Easter Quillby is the hard-knock heroine of Wiley Cash’s second novel, “This Dark Road to Mercy.” Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are cast adrift when their irresponsible mother OD’s, and their woes are further exacerbated when their dad Wade impulsively kidnaps them from their North Carolina children’s home. As it turns out, Wade has stolen bookoo bucks from a lowlife, who has sent Bobby Pruitt, a one-eyed bouncer with a vendetta, to kill him. Growing up’s hard when your dad’s on the lam and is dragging you along across the states, but Ruby and Easter survive, if not exactly thrive, under the care of their troubled father.

While fast-paced and compulsively readable, I did not find this book as compelling as the author’s first, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” As a character, Easter stands head and shoulders above the rest, although Ruby and Wade are pleasing leads as well. The book is narrated by three POV characters- Easter, Pruitt, the eager aspiring assassin, and Brady Weller, the girls’ court appointed guardian, who makes it his personal goal to find Wade and the kids before Pruitt does.

This slim volume has brief chapters and an exciting pace, but isn’t quite as well-written as the author’s previous work. Maybe ‘less well-written’ is the wrong phrase to use; there are no cracks in the narrative, but it makes less of an attempt to be literary as “A Land More Kind Than Home” was. Other than Easter, who was delightful, I didn’t think the characters were as compelling as those in the last book. Wade was pleasingly morally ambiguous, and I found myself trusting his intentions more as the novel progressed.

I think the biggest weakness was the portrayal and voice of Pruitt, the villain. Pruitt’s POV was decidedly meat-and-potatoes and matter-of-fact, where some creepiness and intensity may have been in order. It felt like the author, Wiley Cash, was a little scared to get deep into Pruitt’s psyche, so settles for making him a somewhat bland guy who occasionally beats old ladies with baseball bats.

“This Dark Road to Mercy” is compulsively readable, which means that even a painfully slow reader such as myself finished it in only a few days. It’s actually a really good read, my expectations were just so high after reading “A Land More Kind Than Home” that I was bound to feel a little let down by any book by this author that achieved less than greatness.

I was actually expecting things to go down a lot worse than they did it it’s conclusion. The way they wrapped it up was not bad at all, even satisfying, but I expected an adrenaline-soaked bloodbath, or at least a depressing death, at the climax. I wouldn’t say I was ‘let-down’ by the ending, just surprised that things didn’t end in literary Armageddon. If you come out with one thing from reading this book, it will be the portrayals of buoyant, happy-go-lucky Ruby and resourceful, serious Easter and the journey they take with a father who is just trying hard to be a dad.

Note- I could easily give this book 4.5/5 stars, but it would be unfair to the 4 star books I liked just as much. Therefore, four.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash


“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.