Sunday Burgs book review
Reviewed by Alison Armstrong. She is the collection management librarian at Radford University and on the Board of Trustees for the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library.
Wiley Cash’s debut novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” caught my eye. It wasn’t because I was looking for a new author but because there probably aren’t too many people with the name Wiley Cash. It turned out to be the same Wiley Cash I went to college with years ago. I was intrigued by the novel’s setting, Marshall, N.C., a place where a lot of my family is from. Comparing it to the New River Valley, the 2010 census lists Plum Creek with a population of a little over 1,500 which beats Marshall at just over 800 people.
I checked out this book for my mom to read, thinking she would enjoy it. She read it and immediately turned it over to my father who read it and gave it back to me, eager to discuss it. I had to hold him off admitting that I hadn’t read it yet. So, I did.
Set in about the 1980′s, the story is primarily told by nine year old Jess Hall. He lives in Marshall with his parents, Ben and Julie, and his older brother, Christopher, who everyone but his mother calls “Stump.”
Julie Hall attends a snake handling church in town where there is paper on the windows so the other town people can’t see in. Adelaide Lyle has many roles in town and one of them is teaching Sunday school in which she moved the children out of the church and to her house, in part to protect them from the snakes. The church plays a large role in the book. Adelaide provides a wiser, tolerant, peacekeeping point of view.
Clem Barefield is the local sheriff and he fills in his perspective. He and Jess’ dad have a history but, more so, there is a history between Clem and Jess’ grandfather, a man Jess hardly knows. Clem has a painful past that intersects with the Hall family and, like most small towns, their lives will forever intertwine.
The pastor of Julie’s church, Chambliss, seems to be the kind of man who people either run to or run from. His life, apparently, has had many incarnations. The Hall family is divided between Julie who believes in his power and Ben who does not, a divide that may never mend.
Cash writes about Marshall and small town dynamics, giving his characters a past and depth. He also writes his characters with a regional dialect. Often with “regional” writing, the dialect sounds “put on” and is painful to read. There is a difference between an author who can write dialect and an author who removes the last letter of verbs and adds an apostrophe and a touch of bad grammar. To my ears, Cash’s writing is authentic. I hear the voices of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles in his characters. The story is a quick read, not because it is fluff without much substance, but it is a quick read because you just can’t put it down. I picked up this book because it was written by a fellow classmate about an area I know. I was delighted to find a great novel with a story that will stay with me for a long time. I am looking forward to discussing it with my parents and friends in the future.
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