I was wrapped in an afghan made by my husband’s grandmother while sitting in an antique orange chair in my library when I read the final page of this debut novel by Wiley Cash. I have had the uncorrected proof for some time, and I had not picked it up because it did not have a cover (hence the reason for the upload amazon picture). I wish I could say I don’t always judge a book by its cover….but I would be fibbing. There are times when I am influenced by the cover even though I am perfectly aware that the cover does not always foretell the quality of the inside of the book. I am ashamed of this fact; even more so, since I tell my own students not to do what I am guilty of myself.
I read this book in quick spurts not wanting to stop. The story takes place in North Carolina in the 1960’s and is told by three artfully drawn characters: 9 year-old Jess, the town sheriff,Clem Barefield, and the town midwife, Adelaide Lyle. Their three distinct voices come together to tell the story of the tragic events that befell their town, and I ate up the story. I was truly struck by the endearing relationship between Jess and his older brother nicknamed Stump. Stump is mute and has been since birth, and Jess seems to be the only one who truly understands and accepts Stump as he is. The two brothers love each other with a strength that cannot be explained. I was in awe of them. It is something I want for my own sons…that bond. Stump is naturally curious and likes to snoop…this will prove most disastrous.
Adelaide leads the book off with a story of the town preacher….Pastor Chambliss. He has cast a spell over the town and has convinced them he has the power to heal through Jesus Christ….not all buy into his theatrics, and yet most have frighteningly fallen for his charisma. And after Adelaide witnesses a tragedy during one of his prayer service, she vows to take the children out of the church and provide her own services to them. She deems Pastor Chambliss not appropriate for the children. She is able to keep the children safe for ten years….
The reader is taken through various generations blending families and their own tragedies together to see that this tiny town is filled with remorse, sadness, regret, and fear. All these experiences explode into the horrific events of this story leading to a hint of hope.
A powerfully constructed debut novel…I will be looking for more by Wiley Cash.