Pick of the Week: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

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This book is like a punch in the gut: it hits you unexpectedly, and it hurts.  And yet I couldn’t put it down.  I’d been meaning to read it since it was published to huge critical acclaim a year ago, just because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  Now I understand.  I listened to the audiobook, and it was outstanding.  The story is told from three points of view – Jess Hall, a nine-year-old boy; Adelaide Lile, an elderly midwife; and Clem Barefield, the town sheriff.   Three different readers performed these roles, and their accents and inflection seemed so authentic that they transported you right back to the “scene of the crime.”

And there was definitely a crime scene in this book.  Christopher, Jess’s mute older brother, dies mysteriously in a healing ritual in his rural North Carolina church.  The publisher calls this book a “literary thriller,” and while it’s clear early on who committed the crime and why, the suspense lies more in how things will resolve themselves.  The murder sets in motion a chain of events that will change the characters’ lives forever.  Will Jess’s father become like his own violent, alcoholic father?   Will Clem Barefield be able to separate these tragic events from those he’s experienced in his past? 

This book touches on many of the darkest aspects of the human experience.  It makes you feel the wrenching hopelessness of loss, and the anger and frustration that gets passed down through generations.  It also portrays the insularity of small rural towns, where secrecy still reigns, and where people see only what they choose to and look the other way in order to protect their own.  And yet, through all the anger and grief in this book, there is still love – sometimes misplaced, sometimes destructive, but achingly real.  This is a stunning, powerful novel. 

Reviewed by Andrea, alarson@cooklib.org

Andrea Larson works as a Readers' Advisor at Cook Park Library and loves to connect great people with great books.  She'll read or watch pretty much anything (except horror -- she's kind of a wimp that way).  She's currently working on her Master's in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.