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A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel

A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel

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A Land More Kind Than Home: A Novel

4/5 (100 ratings)
352 pages
6 hours
Apr 17, 2012


A mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small North Carolina town—author Wiley Cash displays a remarkable talent for lyrical, powerfully emotional storytelling. A Land More Kind than Home is a modern masterwork of Southern fiction, reminiscent of the writings of John Hart (Down River), Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), Ron Rash (Serena), and Pete Dexter (Paris Trout)—one that is likely to be held in the same enduring esteem as such American classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and A Separate Peace. A brilliant evocation of a place, a heart-rending family story, a gripping and suspenseful mystery.

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.

Told by three resonant and evocative characters—Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past—A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

Apr 17, 2012

About the author

Wiley Cash is the New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home, the acclaimed This Dark Road to Mercy, and most recently The Last Ballad. He won the SIBA Book Award and the Conroy Legacy Award, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, and has been nominated for many more. A native of North Carolina, he is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He lives in Wilmington, NC with his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, and their two daughters.

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Top quotes

  • Mark 16:17–18” in black paint, and that was just about all he felt led to preach on too, and that’s why I had to do what I done. I’d seen enough, too much, and it was my time to go.

  • I just couldn’t believe a boy that huge wasn’t big enough to put a whooping on a man that small.

  • Warden said Chambliss started up some kind of cult called the Signs Following.

  • They had to graft big old pieces from his legs and his back.

  • I mean to be rid of it tonight.

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A Land More Kind Than Home - Wiley Cash


Adelaide Lyle


I SAT THERE IN THE CAR WITH THE GRAVEL DUST BLOWING ACROSS the parking lot and saw the place for what it was, not what it was right at that moment in the hot sunlight, but for what it had been maybe twelve or fifteen years before: a real general store with folks gathered around the lunch counter, a line of people at the soda fountain, little children ordering ice cream of just about every flavor you could think of, hard candy by the quarter pound, moon pies and crackerjack and other things I hadn’t thought about tasting in years. And if I’d closed my eyes I could’ve seen what the building had been forty or fifty years before that, back when I was a young woman: a screen door slamming shut, oil lamps lit and sputtering black smoke, dusty horses hitched to the posts out front where the iceman unloaded every Wednesday afternoon, the last stop on his route before he headed up out of the holler, the bed of his truck an inch deep with cold water. Back before Carson Chambliss came and took down the advertisements and yanked out the old hitching posts and put up that now-yellow newspaper in the front windows to keep folks from looking in. All the way back before him and the deacons had wheeled out the broken coolers on a dolly, filled the linoleum with rows of folding chairs and electric floor fans that blew the heat up in your face. If I’d kept my eyes closed I could’ve seen all this lit by the dim light of a memory like a match struck in a cave where the sun can’t reach, but because I stared out through my windshield and heard the cars and trucks whipping by on the road behind me, I could see now that it wasn’t nothing but a simple concrete block building, and, except for the sign out by the road, you couldn’t even tell it was a church. And that was exactly how Carson Chambliss wanted it.

As soon as Pastor Matthews caught cancer and died in 1975, Chambliss moved the church from up the river in Marshall, which ain’t nothing but a little speck of town about an hour or so north of Asheville. That’s when Chambliss put the sign out on the edge of the parking lot. He said it was a good thing to move like we did because the church in Marshall was just too big to feel the spirit in, and I reckon some folks believed him; I know some of us wanted to. But the truth was that half the people in the congregation left when Pastor Matthews died and there wasn’t enough money coming in to keep us in that old building. The bank took it and sold it to a group of Presbyterians, just about all of them from outside Madison County, some of them not even from North Carolina. They’ve been in that building for ten years, and I reckon they’re proud of it. They should be. It was a beautiful building when it was our church, and even though I ain’t stepped foot in there since we moved out, I figure it probably still is.

The name of our congregation got changed too, from French Broad Church of Christ to River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. Under that new sign, right out there by the road, Chambliss lettered the words Mark 16:17–18 in black paint, and that was just about all he felt led to preach on too, and that’s why I had to do what I done. I’d seen enough, too much, and it was my time to go.

I’d seen people I’d known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, hold fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people too. God-fearing folks that hadn’t ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God. He made them think it was all right to take that dare if they believed. And just about the whole lot of them said, Here I am, Lord. Come and take me if you get a mind to it. I’m ready if you are.

And I reckon they were ready, at least I hope so, because I saw a right good many of them get burned up and poisoned, and there wasn’t a single one of them that would go see a doctor if they got sick or hurt. That’s why the snake bites bothered me the most. Those copperheads and rattlers could only stand so much, especially with the music pounding like it did and all them folks dancing and hollering and falling out on the floor, kicking over chairs and laying their hands on each other. In all that time, right up until what happened with Christopher, the church hadn’t ever had but one of them die from that carrying on either, at least only one I know about: Miss Molly Jameson, almost eleven years ago. She was seventy-nine when it happened, two years younger than I am now. I think it might’ve been a copperhead that got her. She was standing down front on that little stage when Chambliss lifted it out of the crate, closed his eyes, and prayed over it. He wasn’t more than forty-five years old then, his black hair cut close and sharp like he’d spent time in the army, and he might have for all I knew about him. I don’t think a single one of us knew for sure where he came from, and I figure anyone who said they did had probably been lied to. Once he finished praying over that snake, he handed it to Molly. She took it from him just as gentle as if someone was passing her a newborn baby, this woman who’d never had a child of her own, a widow whose husband had been dead for more than twenty years, his chest crushed up when his tractor rolled over and pinned him upside a tree.

But like I said, she held that copperhead like a baby, and she took her glasses off and looked at it up close like it was a baby too, tears running down her face and her lips moving like she was praying or talking to it in such a soft way that only it could hear her. Everybody around her was too wrapped up in themselves to pay any attention, dancing and carrying on and hollering out words couldn’t nobody understand but themselves. But Chambliss stood there and watched Molly. He held that microphone over his heart with that terrible-looking hand he’d set on fire years before in the basement of Ponder’s feed store. I’d heard that him and some men from the church were meeting for worship down in that basement, drinking lamp oil and handling fire too, and I don’t know just how it happened, but somehow or another Chambliss got his sleeve set on fire and it tore right through his shirt and burned his arm up something awful. They said later that his fingers were even melted together, and he had to pull them apart and set them in splints to keep them separated while they were healing. I didn’t ever see his whole arm because that man didn’t ever roll that right sleeve up, maybe the left one, but not that one. I reckon I can’t blame him. That right hand was just an awful sight, even after it got healed.

Like I said, Chambliss stood back while Molly handled that snake and he watched her catch hold of the Holy Ghost, and when he felt like she was good and filled up with it he went to her and put his good hand on her head. Then he took up that microphone and prayed into it. I remember just exactly what he said because it was the last time I ever heard that man preach. It was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that church until now.

He said, O dear, sweet Jesus, take this woman and fill her up with your spirit from head to foot. Fill us all, sweet Jesus, with your good Holy Ghost. Lift us up in your name, dear Lord. And when he said that, he put his good hand under her elbow and helped her lift that snake up over her head. He moved away real slow, and she just held it there above her like she was making sure God could see it, her eyes closed tight, her feet running in place, her mouth alive and moving in a prayer she probably hadn’t ever prayed in her life.

When she lowered that copperhead is when it happened. The first time it struck it caught her just under her left eye, right along her cheekbone. And when she went to pull it off her face it got her on her right hand, right in between her thumb and her finger, and it wouldn’t let go. She hollered out and cracked that snake like a bullwhip, but it was too strong. Chambliss dropped his microphone, and him and two of the deacons laid her down right there in front of the church. They held her still and finally got that snake’s fangs to turn her hand loose. You could tell by the way they handled it that they didn’t want to hurt it, and they didn’t want themselves to get bit either. Chambliss picked it up just as gentle as he could and then opened the top of that crate with the toe of his boot and let that thing slide right back inside. Everybody stopped their dancing when they heard Molly hollering, and soon the music stopped too. That church was quieter than it had ever been until Chambliss got down on his knee beside Molly and put that microphone up to her lips like he expected her to say something. Go ahead, he said to her, but all you could hear was the sound of her panting like she couldn’t catch her breath. Somebody brought her a glass of water, and those two deacons helped her raise herself up and take a drink. When they sat her up, you could see that her cheek had started to turn blue, and they had to tip the water glass into her mouth because her lips were almost swollen shut.

Sister Jameson, Chambliss said, you’ve stepped out in faith, and we’re all witness to that belief you have in the love of Jesus Christ to protect you and keep you safe, whether it’s here with us on this sinful earth or at home with him in glory. Whispered amens rose up out of the congregation, and people waved their arms over their heads in hallelujah. I’m going to ask the rest of the deacons to come up here with me and lay their hands on you, Sister, and maybe the good Lord will let us pray you through this. The sound of folding chairs being pushed across the linoleum rang out, and groups of men went up on the stage and kneeled around Molly and laid their hands on her and prayed different prayers, some of them in tongues, some of them calling on God and asking him to save her. Chambliss stayed knelt down beside her and kept his eyes closed, his good hand on her head, the burned one still holding on to the microphone.

God’s sent his angels, he whispered. I can hear their footfalls up on the roof above us; I can hear their wings just a-fluttering, Molly. God’s sent his angels to be with you this very morning, and we don’t know if they’re here to watch over you and keep you with us, or if he’s sent them to carry you home to glory, but we feel them here with us, don’t we, and we feel Jesus’s love washing over us this very minute. He looked up at the congregation. And all God’s people said, ‘Amen.’

Amen! the people hollered back. Chambliss stood up and looked out at us, and then he looked back down at Molly where she was laid out and surrounded by all those men who were still busy praying over her.

But the world ain’t made up of God’s people, he said. The world ain’t given to know what we know. The world ain’t going to understand this woman’s faith; it ain’t going to understand her wanting to take up that serpent to conquer the Devil. And I can tell you that the world ain’t ever going to understand the will of God in allowing her to come home to him.

That’s right! someone hollered out. Hallelujah!

But we know, Chambliss said. We know what’s at work here. We know God has a plan for his people. We know God lets only the righteous into Heaven. We know God brings only the worthy home.

Amen! another voice said.

And I tell you, Chambliss said, it’s a good day when one of us goes home. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning when one of us is called back to Jesus. Hallelujah! He dropped his hands to his sides and shuffled across the front of the church like he was dancing. It gives me joy to see it! No tears. No sadness. Hallelujah! Just joy. Joy that this woman’s going home. We got that good Holy Ghost power up in our church today, praise God! He looked over to where Mrs. Crowder sat behind the piano, and he nodded toward her and she took up playing and pounding away at the keys. The drums and the guitar picked up after that, and before I knew it the congregation had started in on Holy Ghost Power and everyone had took to dancing and singing like nothing had ever happened, like they’d all done forgot that Miss Molly Jameson was dying from a snakebite right there in front of us, the music so loud and pulsing you could feel it in your chest. A couple of deacons picked Molly up and carried her out of the church, right down the middle aisle, right past everyone there, but not a single one of them people even seemed to notice.

A few days later I was down at the post office in Marshall when I heard a woman at the counter telling the postman about how Molly’s sister-in-law came over to the house and found Molly dead in the garden on Wednesday evening. Said she was out there laying facedown in a row of tomatoes, a spade still in her hand.

What took her? the postman asked. He wet his finger with his tongue and counted out dollar bills for the woman’s change, and he laid them out on the counter like a fan.

They don’t know exactly what got her, the woman said. She tore a stamp from the sheet the postman had just given her, and she licked it and smoothed it out on her letter before handing it over to him. But they reckon a snake must’ve been hiding in them tomato plants. By the time they found her on Wednesday her right hand had turned black, and she had a black lump under her eye too. It was just as round and hard as it could be, she said. Shiny too, like a ripe apple but for the blackness.

They buried Molly that Friday, and Chambliss preached her funeral.

After that I understood that my church wasn’t no place to worship the Lord in, and I realized I couldn’t stay. I’d been a member of that church in one way or another since I was a young woman, but things had been took too far, and I couldn’t pretend to look past them no more. If having Molly Jameson die right in front of that church didn’t convince Carson Chambliss to stop his carrying on, who’s to say that somebody setting themselves on fire and burning down the church would change his mind? There wasn’t no amount of strychnine that could’ve got him to stop; wasn’t no kind of snake that man wouldn’t pick up and pass around.

Even though that newspaper in the windows kept folks from seeing inside that church, I figure everybody in town knew what was going on, and it wouldn’t be long before they had the law down there trying to break it up. I didn’t like none of it one bit at all, and I knew if it wasn’t a safe place for an old woman, then there wasn’t no way it was a safe place for children, and so I prayed on it and I prayed on it, and that’s when God laid it on my heart. Addie, he said, just as clear as day, you need to get out of that church, but you know you can’t leave them children behind. And I knew then that I’d have to stand up to Carson Chambliss, that I’d have to tell him that what he was doing was wrong.

I got down to the church early that next Sunday morning, the week after Molly Jameson was killed, and I pulled up just as Chambliss and Deacon Ponder unloaded the last of the crates out of the back of Ponder’s pickup truck. I got out of my car and stood there watching them. Chambliss must’ve had some kind of premonition about my business because when he saw me he stopped what he was doing and looked at me, and then he handed his crate over to Ponder.

Would you carry this inside for me, Phil? he asked. I’m going to stay out here and visit with Sister Adelaide for a bit. He slammed the gate on the truck bed, and Ponder nodded his head and smiled at me and walked on inside the church. Chambliss dusted off his hands and walked over to where I was standing by my car. You’re here awfully early, he said. His eyes narrowed to keep out the sun, and then he lifted his good hand to shield them from the light. His face was ruddy and weathered like most men’s faces up here who’ve spent too much time working in the sun or smoking too many cigarettes, or maybe both.

I wanted to get here early because I need to talk to you about some things, I said.

What things?

About what all has happened, I said. My voice was shaking, but I tried my best to hide it because I didn’t want him knowing I was scared of crossing him. I want to talk to you about what happened to Molly last Sunday.

What do you need to talk about? he asked me. You were there. You saw it. She stepped out in faith, and the Lord took her home.

But it ain’t right, I said. It ain’t right what y’all did to her.

What do you mean, ‘It ain’t right’?

It ain’t right what you done with her after church, I said. Taking her home and laying her out there in the yard and just leaving her, hoping somebody would find her before the animals started eating at her. People got a right to know about these things.

What people? he said. Everybody who really loved her, everybody she loved, they all know what happened. He pointed at the church. They were all right inside this church when it happened. Nobody else deserves to know anything more than that. Besides us, nobody in this world needs to know anything at all. It ain’t going to do her a lick of good, and trouble is all it’s going to bring us. He dropped his hand from his eyes and squinted against the sun.

Folks talk, I said. Especially in a town like Marshall, especially about a church like this. Putting up newspaper so they can’t see inside ain’t going to keep them from talking.

Well, he said, I trust the folks of my congregation to know who needs talking to and who don’t. But if you got any ideas about taking our business outside this church, then I think you’d better tell me now. I need to know that I can trust members of my congregation with the Lord’s work.

That’s fine, I said, because I can’t be a part of this no more.

What do you plan on doing? he asked.

I can’t be a part of this no more, I said again. I’m leaving the church, and I want to take the children with me.

He smiled and just stood there looking at me like he was going to laugh in my face.

Is that right, he said. You’re just going to take the children out of my church and teach them in your own way, teach them your own beliefs. What do you think gives you the right to do that?

Before the hospital got built I delivered just about every child that ever stepped foot inside this church, I said. And I delivered just about all their mamas and daddies, too. I ain’t claiming to be in charge of their spirits, but I have a job to see them safely through this world after bringing them into it. And I can tell you this ain’t no place for children to be, I said. It just ain’t safe.

Sister Adelaide, he said, I’ve been pastoring this church long enough for you to know that we protect our children, and I can tell you that I wouldn’t never let a youngster take up no snake or drink no poison or nothing like that. But you’ve been here long enough to know that what we do here is the Truth and our children need to see it. Our children need to be raised up in it.

And you should know that children can’t keep no secrets about what they see either, I said.

He folded his arms across his chest and kind of rocked back on the heels of his boots. He turned his head and looked out over the river toward downtown Marshall like he was thinking about what I’d said. Then he turned his head and looked back at me.

Can you, Sister Adelaide? Can you keep a secret?

I can, I said. But I’d rather not know any secrets that need keeping, and I won’t know them if I stay out of your church. A church ain’t no place to hide the truth, and a church that does ain’t no place for me. Ain’t no place for children neither.

CHAMBLISS NEVER FORGAVE ME FOR TAKING THE CHILDREN OUT OF that church. He warned me then that in leaving the church I was leaving my life as I’d known it, and that those folks wouldn’t ever accept me the way they once had and that I’d always be an outsider. I told him I wasn’t leaving the church, I was just leaving him, but I knew he was right. I lost friendships I’d had just about my whole life, and it hurt me. It still does. But for ten years I kept those children out, kept them safe. Once the service started, I’d take them across the road and down to the river when it was nice and warm, or folks would just drop them off at my house in the wintertime or if it was raining. We’d have us a little Sunday school lesson, then they’d play outside. Sometimes we’d make things, color pictures, and sing songs. But I didn’t step another foot inside that church for ten years, and I hardly said more than a hello to Carson Chambliss in all that time. And for a while there it was real nice, that little truce. I had my little congregation and he had his, and we didn’t have hardly anything to do with each other. I felt like I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do with those children.

But I should’ve known it couldn’t have gone on like that, and I should’ve known that something terrible was going to happen again. But there was just no way I could have guessed it would happen to one of mine. I tried to keep them children out of that church, and for ten years I did, but that ten years didn’t do nothing for Carson Chambliss but make him ten years older and braver and ten years more reckless too. And here I was on a Thursday afternoon, sitting outside a church I thought I’d never see the insides of again, waiting to talk to a man I was afraid of being alone with. It was the only time in my life I’d ever gone to church out of fear.

I sat out there in my car with the windows rolled down and my keys still swinging from the ignition, and I stared at the church through all that bright heat and thought about him sitting in there in all that dark and waiting. The sound of that gravel dust getting blown through the parking lot could’ve been bare feet shuffling across the hallway the night before, when Julie was standing in the doorway watching me hunched over the bed in my funeral clothes. I finished folding the covers down, then I turned around and settled myself by the quilt that was slung over the footboard, and I smoothed out my dress and looked up at her. She didn’t have a black dress to wear because she’d had to leave so many things behind right after it happened, and I ended up giving her one of mine. It hadn’t been worn for years, and I reckon it had fell out of fashion well before I’d come to own it, but she seemed glad to have it and it looked just fine on her. She almost looked like a young girl, even though she was a woman a couple years past thirty who’d just buried her son. When we’d come in from the funeral, she’d gone into the bedroom across the hall and closed the door. I heard the old springs on the bed give a creak when she laid down on it. I imagined her in there on that bed with her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling until the room got too dark to see it. Then she’d opened the door and come across the hall with her hair let down just as long and pretty as it could be. About the color of sweet corn. I could see she’d done a little more crying.

You fixing to turn in? she asked me. I nodded my head and tried to smile at her.

I was thinking about it, I said. You need anything before I do?

No, ma’am, she said. I think I’ll be all right. I just want to tell you again how much I appreciate you letting me stay here. Shouldn’t be but just a while. Just till I decide what I’m going to do.

Lord, girl, I told her, you can stay here just as long as you’re needing to. You don’t need to make no kinds of decisions, especially not tonight, especially after what all has happened. She looked down at that pretty yellow hair where it draped over her shoulder and fell down to her chest, and she picked up the ends of it and swished it over her fingers like she was dusting something off her hands.

Pastor told me he wants to see you, she said. Tomorrow afternoon, down at the church. He said about three o’clock. She dropped her hair and used both her hands to move it back behind her shoulders, and then she raised her face and looked at me.

I wish he could’ve told me himself, I said. And I wish he’d been out there today at Christopher’s funeral. Don’t seem right that he wasn’t.

He thought it’d be better if he didn’t come, she said. After all that’s happened, I mean.

Is that right? I said. A little boy dies during his church service, and he thinks that’s a reason to stay away. It don’t seem right to me. I stood up from the bed and turned on the lamp on the bedside table and went to the closet where my nightgown hung on the back of the door. I don’t reckon you want to go down there with me?

He said he wanted you to come alone, she said.

I can’t say I’m too surprised by that, I said.

THERE WASN’T A SINGLE CAR OUT THERE IN THE PARKING LOT BESIDES mine and Chambliss’s old Buick. I opened the door and put my feet out on the blacktop and looked across the road where the land sloped down toward the riverbank. Downtown Marshall sat about a mile or so up the river, too far away to hear the sounds of cars or people’s voices or other things you might hear on a Thursday afternoon in a little town. It looked to be real still, like there wasn’t even anybody on the streets at all. I looked back toward the church and saw the green field spread out behind it, the trees rising up from the woods farther out at the field’s edge. There weren’t any sounds except for that little bit of breeze and the sound of the river running softly across the street. I climbed out of the car and closed the door and just stood there for what seemed like forever, trying to wrap my head around what might’ve happened up here on Sunday night, trying to imagine what was going to happen to me.

I can tell you that opening the door and stepping inside that church was like walking right into the dark of night. The newspaper over those windows blocked out the sun, and with that dark wood paneling on the walls it took a good while for my eyes to get used to all that blackness; I couldn’t hardly see a thing until they did. Once my eyes got fixed right, I could see where the broken linoleum tiles exposed the bare cement floors after those coolers had been yanked out. It hadn’t hardly changed a bit in ten years. I followed the floor tiles down the center of the room where the folding chairs parted to lead you down to the front of the church. I could just barely make out Chambliss sitting in a chair right up there on the first row. His back was to me, and he didn’t even turn around when the door closed behind me. He didn’t turn around when he spoke to me either; he just sat there looking straight ahead.

Sister Adelaide, he said. I was hoping you’d decide to come in.

Julie said you wanted to see me, I said. And here I am.

And here you are, he said. "I’m glad you came.

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What people think about A Land More Kind Than Home

100 ratings / 75 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    The novel is a story of murder and deception in a small Appalachian town under the spell of a charismatic minister of the snake handling ilk. Rarely is Appalachia flattered in books or film, and this book is no exception. The story was engaging, if not original, the characters were well fleshed out with backstory, and the book held me until the end. This was a quick read, but definitely not for the delicate reader.
  • (3/5)
    This book had a blurb saying it was like Cormac McCarthy rewrote To Kill a Mockingbird - I don’t actually agree with that, but there definitely are some Cormac McCarthy vibes here. A Southern gothic novel about blindly believing in a church that has no limits. The pastor has a rough past he’s trying to hide while pushing his “flock” to test their faith by putting their hands in rattlesnake cages. People have mysteriously died in the church, so the windows have been covered with newspaper. Very creepy story, interesting, and well-written overall, but there were a lot of flashbacks thrown in the middle of action, making it hard to keep the timeline straight.
  • (4/5)
    The author chose the perfect three narrators; a sheriff, an elderly lady, and a child. It's a great narrative about southern small time life. The characters are well developed from the crazy Pastor Chambliss to the brothers Stump and Jess. The novel is well written, but I found the ending too contrived.
  • (4/5)
    Author Wiley Cash lets his debut work, "A Land More Kind Than Home", be told through three distinctly different voices: a young boy, an elderly lady, and a salt-and-pepper sheriff. This dark and disturbing blend of religion, superstition, and manipulation reveals painful human vulnerabilities. Even the most devout believers may have chinks in their armor. The elements of truth in this work of fiction are unsettling, and just as nature has its way in the wild, the weak are culled from the herd. The predator here is a preacher, but is he a man of God, or is he the Devil incarnate? The characters are well-drawn, and the story line is as old as mankind itself. My favorite "voice" was the sheriff, a seasoned lawman with keen Southern sensibilities. The contrasts in the ages and life situations of the three narrators add just the right balance. "Snake handling" and "speaking in tongues" is still a religious practice in parts of the United States. I live in a small town in the VA mountains, and I have heard of churches which partake of these rituals, but they are not located in my home area. "A Land More Kind Than Home" is set in rural North Carolina, and it has a true feel for the land and the people. Wiley Cash is an author to watch, and I hope he continues to tell his tales with a Southern accent.Book Copy Gratis Amazon Vine
  • (4/5)
    Southern fiction often reminds us that evil exists where we least expect to find it and that we let our guards down at our own risk. Wiley Cash’s disturbing debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, set deep inside the rural North Carolina of the mid-eighties, takes this approach. There is plenty of evilness in Cash’s story, and most of it is buried in one charismatic preacher’s heart.Sometimes nine-year-old Jess Hall, even though he has an older brother, feels like he is the oldest child in the family. His brother, who carries the unfortunate nickname “Stump,” is severely autistic and has never spoken. Jess loves Stump dearly and has routinely assumed the burden of watching out for his brother when the two of them are outdoors on their own. But one day Jess cannot protect Stump from the evil that has entered their home. And, although Jess curses the momentary cowardice that led him to run off and abandon Stump to his fate, he will fail Stump one more time – with tragic consequences. A Land More Kind Than Home explores the power of deeply held religious faith to blind true believers to the evil within those whom they trust the most. Pastor Chambliss, whose church the boys’ mother attends, has a criminally checkered past and is not a man to tolerate people spying on him. Unfortunately, Jess and Stump, who greatly enjoy the thrill of spying on adults, inadvertently do spy on the preacher one day, with lasting consequences that will impact their entire community.This is a story of good vs. evil, one that explores what can happen when evil is allowed to have its way unchallenged. It is about a community’s responsibility to protect its children even when their mother fails to do so. It is about secrets, the kind that can get people killed, ruin marriages, or allow one man callously to exploit for decades those who trust him most. It is Southern fiction at its best, and Wiley Cash has claimed a well-deserved spot for himself within the genre. Rated at: 4.0
  • (5/5)
    Loved it! I was drawn into the story right away. Not a happy one, to be sure, but compelling and beautifully written.
  • (4/5)
    Pastor Carson Chambliss played a pivotal role in A Land More Kiind Than Home. He was also the only character that I disliked in every possible way. Wiley Cash writes the most beautiful characters! I have to think that he is acquainted with some of the most down to earth and impoverished and sadly naive people in the country, how else could he write such extraodinary characters?For too many reasons to name, books that take place in an Appalacian setting tend to remind me of my grandparents and particularly my paternal great grandparents. So much of the folklore, and music rings true to my memories of those long ago days when I sat at the table as a child and listened to the grown ups talk about their old days.Christopher listened, he listened to his brother, the grown ups and to the rhythms and melodies of the earth and the sky. He was one of the special ones, the ones born old. He never spoke, and was deeply attached to his brother Jess. Many called him by the cruel nickname of Stump, but it didn't matter to him. He knew who he was, and that was a being too filled with kindness and love to allow a simple name to matter. Jess was also completely devoted to his brother. It was as if they were attached at the hip, and they had a deep understanding of and commitment to each other. Sadly, both or either of them were wiser than their mother. She was a woman broken by the world and reaching for whatever hope promised to her, no matter who made the offer. Their father, too was just a man trying to make his way, A man who had suffered too much, too soon and whose family mattered to him, but perhaps more as proof that he was different from his father than as actual people needing his guidance and care. But Adelaide Lyle, she was one of the wise ones. She was more fortunate than most, she had lived long and learned much. It was her hands that helped to birth many of those she knew. Generations had been born into her competent hands, as she played the role of wise woman, country doctor and midwife. She also played the roles of teacher and mother, although she had no children of her own. She was the one who tried to save them. She tried to save them all. This story will break your heart, and you will remember the characters long after the last page has been read. Wiley Cash has the gift of storytelling. Don't miss A Land More Kind Than Home.
  • (4/5)
    A most evocative story of a Southern slice of life that revolves around the impact of an extreme evangelical church in a small town, and the power of one person to introduce evil. Told from three points of view, the author is skilful in making each narrator distinct, particularly the nine year old boy. The fact that the apparently inevitable tragedy is pretty clear from the start in no way diminishes the strength of the story, and although the ending is a bit abrupt, its positive message lingers with the reader.
  • (4/5)
    This is a Character driven novel set in rural upstate North Carolina where it is difficult to leave the past behind. The novel is told by four characters perspectives which leads to deeper understanding of the motivations of the characters and interesting to see others points of views on the same event. What I enjoyed most about the book is seeing how the past kept bubbling up like from a brook no matter how much the characters tried to suppress them, but it is this deep history that ultimately makes it possible for the characters to forgive and move on.
  • (4/5)
    This book tells the story of the Hall family. Growing up north of Asheville, North Carolina in the Appalachian mountains, Jess loves his father, a tobacco farmer, his mother and his older brother, nicknamed Stump, who doesn't talk, but who is his constant companion. His mother is involved in the local Church of God with Signs Following, a small, secretive pentecostal congregation led by a charismatic pastor. In this rural community, everyone knows everyone else and what their parents did. And then one event precipitates another and things go badly wrong.This is a book whose sum is greater than its parts. Yes, there's fantastic atmosphere and a solid sense of place. And the characters are complex and even the secondary ones are fully fleshed out. The plot is well put together and moves with a sort of inevitable speed toward the conclusion, but this book just works. There are a few false notes. Cash missed a step by not fully exploring the beliefs of the church, which are more complex than he set forth, but as a whole, this was a fantastic book that fully deserves its reputation.
  • (5/5)
    Jess and his brother Christopher (nicknamed Stump) live in a rural North Carolina town dominated by a fundamentalist pastor with a shady past. Early on, Jess and Stump see something they shouldn't, with swift and disastrous consequences. The rest of the story is told through three narrative voices: Jess, the town sheriff, and an elderly Sunday school teacher. And instead of telling the reader what happens after the terrible event, Wiley Cash takes the reader back in time and leads them step by step toward and through the conflict. Adelaide Lyle, the Sunday school teacher, is a keen observer of the intricate relationships between townspeople. She despises the pastor, and years ago moved the Sunday school from the church to her home to keep teaching the children that she loves. Clem Barefield, the sheriff, has lived through tragedy and loss, and yet still manages to perform his duties and cannot rest until he gets to the bottom of a case. Nine-year-old Jess is an innocent, understanding little about what is happening around him, and left in the dark by his parents. I felt terribly sad for Jess, whose life would be forever changed simply as a result of being a normal boy playing behind his house. And I felt anger at the pastor, who held the town in a grip of fear, and abused his power for personal gain. This is a very unsettling novel, but one that grabs you almost from the first page and will not let go.
  • (5/5)
    Wiley Cash has produced a stunning debut novel set in rural Appalachia in the mid 1980's. Telling the story from three different points of view (9 year old Jess Hall, 60 year old  Sheriff Clem Barefield, and 81 year old Adelaide Lyle, midwife and Sunday School teacher) Cash skillfully presents a picture of the power of evil disguised as religion, and the harm caused by alcoholism, secret-keeping, and lack of understanding at all levels of the town.Each narrator tells different aspects and events of the lives inhabitants of the town, and each brings us closer to the chilling ending, while at the same time giving us back-fill about themselves and the community.  Jess tells us about his older brother Christopher (called "Stump") who is autistic.  Stump's never spoken a word, but he and Jess are able to communicate without difficulty.  In the course of normal boyhood games, they spy on the happenings inside the community's fundamentalist Pentecostal church, led by Pastor Carson Chambliss (the villain every reader will love to hate). Unable to process what they have witnessed or ask adults for an explanation for fear of being punished for snooping, they stumble along toward the inevitable.Preacher Chambliss believes in a form of religion based on an interpretation of scripture that posits a God who will protect believers from evil--in this case evil in the form of bags of rattlesnakes--and that those who expose themselves to such evil, e.g., plunge their arms into sacks full of snakes, can be cured of the maladies caused by their sins by trusting in God.Adelaide Lyle, increasingly convinced that the preacher is up to no good, removes her Sunday school students from the church services rather than have these children she has delivered brought into contact with these bizarre rituals.The boys' mother has bought into the preacher's promises of God's restorative powers and wants to have Pastor Chambliss "cure" Christopher of his speechlessness.  Her motherly love and her misguided sense of faith engenders a huge rift between the boys' parents, destroying her marriage, and driving her more and more to the solace offered by the preacher, thereby adding more tension to the story.From the beginning, I had a sense of doom, despair, and utter devastation waiting at the end, but could not put the book down.  I even got the audio version--admirably read by Mark Bramhall, Lorna Raver and Nick Sullivan-- so I could continue with the story even when I couldn't sit with a book. I sometimes needed to remind myself that 9 year old Jess was the younger brother, although never did Cash drop out of character and make him seem older than he was.  It was simply the fact that without the ability to process what Stump was experiencing and thinking, and the fact that Jess had been assigned the duty of watching after his brother, that he came to be seen as the more mature.  Either way, these two boys were surrounded by adults who were not helping these young boys make sense of their world and were therefore unable to protect them.The Sheriff, one of the sharper knives in the drawer, at least pays attention to his sense of unease and begins to investigate the Pastor, but is not able to put the brakes on the happenings before it's too late.  The same holds true for Adelaide:  while she can see what may be coming, she simply cannot overcome years of fear and ignorance to break down the prejudices and false ideas of the community.  She feels a responsibility for the children, she tries as best as she knows how to shield them, but in this case the power of evil, the overwhelming reliance on a religious fanatic (and quack) is too much for her.Wiley Cash grew up in the South.  Those roots shine through in his gorgeous portrayal of the customs, the people, and the geography.   His sense of place is one of the best I've seen in years.  His ability to write in three distinct voices and give each of them a unique perspective is uncanny, and one of the strengths of this work.  I don't want to say more about the plot to avoid spoilers.  This is a book that will stay with me for a long time, and one which I will read again.  It will be an outstanding book for a reading discussion group.
  • (5/5)
    “People out in these parts can take hold of religion like it’s a drug, and they don’t want to give it up once they’ve got hold of it. It’s like it feeds them, and when they’re on it they’re likely to do anything these little backwoods churches tell them to do. Then they’ll turn right around and kill each other over that faith, throw out their kids, cheat on husbands and wives, break up families just as quick.” (97)In Marshall, North Carolina, Ben and Julie Hall are raising their two sons: Christopher, the eldest at thirteen, and mute, is known as Stump by all but his mother; and Jess, who lovingly and tirelessly looks out for his older brother. Sadly, however, “If somebody would have wanted to, after Christopher was born, they could’ve just stood by and watched Julie and Ben grow apart from each other real slow. It was like a tree had sprung up between them, a tree that was just too thick to throw their arms around.” (215) Too, both Ben and Julie have different ideas as to the meaning of their having borne a mute child together. Julie believes Christopher’s muteness is a sign from God – a belief which ironically will lead her straight into the arms of Carson Chambliss, evil ex-convict and snake-handling preacher at the local church. When Stump sneaks a look at something he is not supposed to see one day, in spite of repeated warnings from his mother not to snoop, his action will have tragic consequences – Stump, too, will come to know the church of Carson Chambliss.The story is told from the point of view of three reliable narrators: the elderly and respectable Adelaide Lyle, local midwife and moral conscience; Clem Barefield, the town’s sheriff with his own painful past; and Jess Hall superbly well here. Cash’s writing is beautiful – prudent and frugal – and his use of the vernacular is superlative. I was fast in the grip of the novel from page one with its well drawn characters and intelligent plot. Carson Chambliss is the eeriest being I’ve come upon in literature for a long time – made my skin crawl.A stunning debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home establishes Cash as a master storyteller, one whose work I’ll be watching going forward. Very highly recommended!“… he wanted me to come down to the church the next day, and I can say that after I did I knew for certain that I’d looked right into the face of evil." (228)
  • (4/5)
    What a tragic story. Written from the view point of many of the people of the story and very well written. I don’t think I can recommend it to others but I’m glad I read it. Although it was a sad, sad story it was so well done that I liked it. 8/3
  • (5/5)
    Of late, I've been having trouble describing the plots of the books I've read, so why should A Land More Kind Than Home the debut novel by Wiley Cash be any different? So, rather than summarizing what happens, I'll tell you it's an intriguing novel about misplaced trust, blind belief and small southern towns. It's a story of how nine-year-old Jess Hall's life falls apart.A Land More Kind Than Home is told from various people's perspective: Adelaide Lyle, a 70 some year old townslady who has divorced herself from the local church (with newspapers pasted across the windows to hide what goes on inside); Jess Hall himself who describes his feelings about his mute older brother Christopher (aka Stumpy) and his parents; and Clem Barefield, the local sheriff, who in some ways has to clean up the mess that occurs.Through a series of reminiscences interspersed with the current story, readers get a feeling for all of the characters, their histories, their motivations, their victories and defeats. Much of what happens you can predict, but that does not lessen the impact of each event. It just makes you want to read faster to see if it really does occur.There came a point about a third of the way through, when I finally got to read in longer stretches than a few minutes here or there that I found I didn't want to put the book down. Cash has talent for wordsmithing and story telling. No wonder hte book was included in the New York Times Book Review Notable Book list.I tend to tell you about books I like and rarely will I post something about a book I don't like. So, if it's written about here, you know it's good (in my humble opinion). Anyway, it was recommended by Susan, so it must be good, right? We all know she's got high standards when it comes to books. So put A Land More Kind Than Home on top of your pile of books on your nighttable. Actually, if you want to get some sleep, put it on the pile in your living room; otherwise you'll be up til the wee hours trying to finish it.
  • (5/5)
    "And the Lord knows that when people don't get what they need they take what they can find..." and if this doesn't lead to heartbreak, I don't know what does. Told from the perspectives of 9-year-old Jess Hall, elderly midwife Adelaide Lyle, and Madison County sheriff Clem Barefield, this compulsively readable novel has indelibly imprinted by brain with rich characters and vivid scenes, but it's my heart that has been touched. *A Land More Kind than Home* is the story of religious fanaticism gone wrong (can it go otherwise?) in a community of hard-working and hard-drinking souls who have little hope of anything beyond what they can see over the next mountain ridge. It's the story of the damage to be wrought by need and longing and loneliness. It's also a story of hope. "It's a good thing to see that people can heal after they've been broken, that they can change and become something different from what they were before." I don't know if I buy Wiley Cash's notion that churches can heal just as people can, but I closed the book knowing that I will read whatever this man next publishes.
  • (3/5)
    Loved this book, especially because it was set in Western North Carolina - a place where my grandparents lived. The location resonated with me and fit this story perfectly. Stump, a child that is mute, lives with his very religious mother and quiet, brooding father. Stump's mom takes him to a "holy roller" church where they handle snakes, drink poison and play with fire - all in the name of the Lord. When tragedy strikes the church, many secrets are uncovered. A great story from a new writer. Loved it!
  • (5/5)
    Excellent audio book and hard to stop listening. I would wake up in the middle of the night and instead of going back to sleep, I would listen to this book. A southern gothic story that you know is going to be a train wreck but you can't look away. The readers do an excellent job bringing the reader into this world. Recommend.
  • (4/5)
    Stump and his brother Jess have a life one wishes children would never have to live. Elegant writing providing a wonderful sense of place. August 2013
  • (4/5)
    It's hard to believe this is Wiley Cash's debut novel. The plot and storytelling both shine. The story is centered around a secret in a small town populated with typical characters including the evil preacher, the devout followers, the skeptics, the disenfranchised, and the drunk and disorderly. The characters are crisp and distinct and fully actualized - no two-dimensional or filler folks to be found. The plot is suspenseful and includes just enough side details to keep you interested and guessing how it will all come together. But the real beauty of A Land More Kind than Home is in the writing. Cash somehow immerses the reader into small town Appalachia. Every word feels slow and humid and desperate and tobacco-steeped. It's a book to be savored on a slow Sunday afternoon.
  • (5/5)
    I really enjoyed this book and would have rated it a 5 except for a couple of things. First, I thought the end was a bit rushed. It wasn't as conclusive as I would have liked it to be. And second...there were one or two scenes that didn't really contribute to the plot. I kept waiting for those scenes to tie into the story and they never did. Anyway, I loved the book and would recommend it.
  • (3/5)
    This is a southern saga of a small North Carolina town where a minister has brought healing to a church. The church's windows have been covered in newspaper, which immediately foreshadows dark secrets within. With the healing minister comes evil and A Land More Kind Than Home is the account of how that evil effects one family in particular.

    The narrative is told in four voices: A ten year old boy (Jess), his father, the sheriff and an old wise woman who was the first to recognize the evil. The centerpiece of the novel is a twelve year old mute boy, Jess's older brother, nick-named "Stump". Despite the efforts of Jess and the old lady to protect Stump and the love of his father and mother, things go awry for the boy and all the characters have to deal with it.

    This is an amazing book. If it is a debut book from this author then hats off to him. The writing style, the story, the premise, the ending, the character development, all was phenomenal.
  • (4/5)
    Great Southern flavor, wonderful characters, and a heartfelt and too-often tragic story all add up to make for a great summer read. I'm a sucker for Southern lit, and this book, with its poison-drinking, snake-handling Christians, with kids caught in circumstances beyond their control, with dialogue that seemed so right to me, did not let me down. My only issue with the book came in the last chapter where a character I met at the beginning of the book and very much liked, wrapped up the story. To me, the last couple of pages seemed a little too preachy, and it felt more like the author was speaking to me than that the character was.Other than that minor quibble, I loved this novel.Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance copy for my review.
  • (5/5)
    This extraordinary novel will certainly stir your emotions.Set in the oppressive heat of North Carolina, the story unfolds from the viewpoint of three people. Adelaide Lyle is a force to be reckoned with. An elderly, deeply religious matriarch, she has not attended church for ten years because she strongly disagrees with the manner of pastor Carson Chambliss’s teaching methods and his dubious healing practices. Instead, she teaches Sunday school to the local children at her home. Clem Barefield is the town sheriff. He’s a “regular kind of guy” and a popular figurehead in the community. There is sadness in his past which links him to the family of our third character Jess Hall. Jess is just nine years old, but he has witnessed more than any child should have to. One Sunday, he spies through a church window at a healing service which attempts to “cure” his mute, autistic older brother Christopher. He not only doesn’t comprehend what he is watching, but is scared for his brother. Worse still, he is unable to tell anyone, as he knows he shouldn’t have been watching. A further such healing service ends in unimaginable horror when Christopher is smothered to death. Understandably, local feelings run high and the fall out is catastrophic.Wiley Cash has a wonderful gift of drawing you in to his novel from the first page. His understanding of personalities is first class, no mean feat when they span several generations. I loved this book. It is a pleasure to read and a debut for Cash who has a second novel in the pipeline, also set in his beloved North Carolina. I can’t wait!This book was made available to me, prior to publication, for an honest review.
  • (4/5)
    This is a touching and well written novel about two young brothers, their parents and grandpa, a fundamentalist church with its charismatic but evil preacher, and the local sheriff. It has a wonderful sense of place and a good feel for its characters. The story is told from multiple points of view, but still manages to be sequential (rather than repetitive). I liked it and will look forward to more from Mr Cash.
  • (5/5)
    This is dark southern fiction at it's best. Realistic dialogue. Well developed characters. Excellent writing. One of my favorites.
  • (5/5)
    I now want to read everything that Wiley Cash writes! A Land More Kind Than Home is superb in its emotional power and portraying Appalachia of North Carolina. In the back of the book Mr. Cash tells what inspired him to write it. His professor in a writing workshop brought in a news story about the death of an African American autistic boy in Chicago at a healing service. Since Mr. Cash was not familiar with that cultural environment he took that story and transported it to North Carolina in a church where the same thing could have easily happened. When reading about Stump (Christopher) the mute, I recognized some of my younger brother in the characterization. It was easy for me to understand the protectiveness of Stump’s younger brother Jess Hall.And the words of Adeline Lyle about why did Stump have to be healed. He had no devil in him, he was born that way. She knew, she had delivered him. Adeline Lyle, a seventy-seven year old woman grew up with her parents but was taken in by her great aunt and learn self-reliance at the age of fourteen when she had to support herself, she knew the healing of herbs and had the wisdom to stop going to a church that was dangerous to the lives of its members. She knew that a church with newspapers pasted to its windows so outsiders could not see in was wrong.Jess Hall, Stump’s younger brother is an ever curious boy who had a deep love for his brother, gentler and deeper than his mother’s. He is dealing with actions of adults that he cannot understand and that are scaring him.Sheriff Clem Barefield is haunted by a tragedy in his past. He also knows the dark history of the Pastor Chambless who took on the church. He knows the Hall family history too and emotional scars that her carries.I highly recommend this story set in North Carolina’s Appalachia as it is a strong story of innocence, fear, hate, tragedy, love and forgiveness. Reading his book makes me more aware of where I grew up,of what is special to that area. Mr. Cash deserves the title of a gifted storyteller.
  • (3/5)
    Book club selection. An Appalachian church preacher kills a disabled boy during one of his services. He told the members help him "heal" the boy, but, from some of the back story provided by other characters, we know he really wants to get rid of a witness to his adultery with the boys mother. Kind of boring, especially sections by Jess Hall, a 9 yr old boy, which had a lot of reporting what he sensed at each moment. I would not read any more of this author. When the sheriff presented the post mortem result of "petechiae", I lost all respect for the author. Petechiae are pinpoint blood spots, yet the author refers to "eyes swimming in blood."
  • (4/5)
    From the very first chapter, the author draws you into this little Southern town and the mysterious practices behind newspaper covered windows in the church. There is a vague and pervasive sense of unease as one reads through the chapters, the trepidation escalates as certain events take place. We follow the carefree lives of 2 brothers in a small North Carolina town. Stump, the older brother is mute and Jess, the younger brother looks out for him. When they each see something they shouldn't have seen, their individual actions has drastic repercussions on their family and others in their community.The author delivers each of his characters boldly, honestly and without apology. We're never confused in this story as to which characters to root for and which characters to flay. It's an absolutely wonderful work, and one I will be placing on my re-read shelf.
  • (4/5)
    This debut novel was pretty good. In fact, I would have given it four stars until the last few pages, when a character's religious beliefs started to feel like authorial intrusion, and I felt lectured to... Still, well worth reading for the compelling story, the fresh and often gorgeous prose.