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.