Three summers ago, I drove my two oldest boys to East Carolina University. Entrusting our travels to my new GPS aquisition, we left Hampton Roads and turned onto Route 13. Miles and miles of crumbling shacks alternated with abandoned storefront churches and rusted out cars on blocks drifted by us as we traveled this isolated and lonely two-lane road. Any sign of inhabitation seemed questionable, the rare onlooker returned a suspicious glance in our direction. Abandoned by truckers, I doubt anyone but reclusive locals traveled along this forgotten stretch. The “non-yellow newspaper in the front windows to keep folks from looking in” that Adelaide Lyle describes in A Land More Kind Than Home is a very real part of the rural North Carolina landscape even today.
The further west you travel in North Carolina, the further the distance from the Raleigh-Durham-Greensboro triangle, the progressively more isolated North Carolina towns become. By the time you reach the Appalacian mountains, you are practically in a foreign country. Here the history of the War Between the States fades, and the lingering culture of the Scotch-Irish migration persists. Religion takes on a personality of its own; there is an evolution of the Holy Spirit that is very different from its distant Christian cousins in the East.
By the time you reach Marshall, NC, practically the Tennesse border, you are in a land where superstitions mix with the Gospel in what outsiders would perceive as an unholy way. But it is not unholy, and this novel shows that the Spirit, though strange, is thriving in these folk. Their devotion, even to madness, proves their willingess to submit to God in a way no city dweller would do. Burning a barn to the ground, handling venomous snakes, and pressing the Devil out of a mute boy are reasonable actions for one unwilling to question the written Word. Refusing to take these risks in the name of the Lord is perceived as spiritual weakness. The pull between Reason and Faith creates a small fissure that eventually fractures the community in two.
What Wiley Cash artfully accomplishes is a complete mastery of setting and culture without the faintest whisper of judgement. Marshall is a community of families that never left the mountains, it is as simple as that. These families share their stories, bear their grudges and ultimately, tend to each others’ wounds. Even as heartache and loss wind their way up the seldom trod roads, these families heal, together.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
William Morrow, Released Today, April 17, 2012