A Land More Kind than Home is, on the surface, a novel that deals with the aftermath of the death of an autistic boy during an extreme evangelical church healing. It is not a crime novel despite the event forming a catalyst for the tragic course the characters seem unable to steer from. It is so much more than that, though. It is a personal history of the characters, all complex and multidimensional, and a social history of the community affected by the event. It is a rare author who has the confidence and empathy to allow their characters to speak with their own authentic voices. The multiple narrators in this novel have distinct and genuine voices that are written with such understated skill that they are unforced and natural. Their vibrant retelling of their own ghost-ridden histories brings them alive in a way that is so rarely seen in fiction. These characters live complex lives and the blurred edges of their interactions, their shared past and the shared past of a small-town community, mean that there are no plain heroes or villains in this book. A book that begins with the death of a boy will never have a simple happy ending but Cash’s empathy for his characters and his ability to translate that into the written word, gives the reader an acceptance of the events of the novel; an understanding of how the characters arrive at their final actions.
Through these people, Cash brings alive possibly the strongest character in the novel, one who cannot speak for themselves but who is no less tangible for their silence – the North Carolina mountain land that forms the backbone supporting the people who inhabit the pages. This is an effortless part of the prose, which I believe is the result of Cash’s deep links with his home state, much as his upbringing in an Evangelical church community lends authenticity to his portrayal of the religious community in the novel. I don’t believe this is a book about religion, though. It is a backdrop to the events but in essence, it is the people that drive the narrative.
I would strongly recommend this book. It is a serious fiction book but not an arduous read. I found myself unwilling to put it down and now, weeks later, the characters are still with me, a benchmark of their strength. What excites me most is that this is a debut novel. I am eager to see where Wiley Cash will take me next.