In A Land More Kind Than Home, Cash tells the story of a death that happens in a small church from three different points of view, each person giving different parts of the story. There is Adelaide Lyle who opens the book remembering how much has changed in the tiny North Carolina town where they live. She hints that these changes came about because of the actions or decisions of Carson Chambliss. The book is about a tragic event that changes the town forever.
This first chapter is incredibly strong. It follows the full arc of a strong story and could be a story in itself. We have a strong opening sentence planting us firmly in a particular space and time. The scene is set and vivid. We quickly get the hook which is that something significant has happened that has changed the town and the people in it. We understand that Chambliss is the antagonist and Adelaide is either the hero or one of them.
Adelaide presents herself as a moral authority in the first chapter when she distinguishes her own morals and values as being above those of the church which she finds suspect under Chambliss’ direction. As a reader, we believe her to be the authority and we are hooked to keep reading. We trust her voice as an authority.
Read more about the importance of establishing an authoritative voice for your narrator.
In the next chapters, we meet the other narrators, Jess Hall who is a young boy, and Clem Barefield, the sheriff. Jess is the strongest and most interesting narrator, followed by Adelaide. Clem’s chapters seemed more forced to me, and less engaging. His purpose seemed to be to give more background and context to the other characters including Jess’ parents and his grandfather but these sections came off as forced to me with too much “telling.” For a fast paced novel, Clem’s sections slowed down the pace.
The book relies on the premise that someone with a criminal history and questionable moral background could move to a small town and start a church where so many people give him their faith completely. To me this is a sound premise as we see people all the time giving more trust and devotion to complete strangers than even to people they have known their whole lives. Take for example how many people will go off for the night with a stranger they meet online on a dating website. They will share themselves with a near or total stranger intimately, give money, commit to each other on an impulse or a feeling but will not support their brother’s new business, stick with a lifelong friend with different political opinions. We give so much more to strangers than to people we know. We love to put faith in the unknown. We are always falling for con artists and imposters. This was the most interesting part of the book to me.
The other theme I enjoyed was the idea that if we don’t “get what we need, we will take what we can get.” This sentiment was stated about Jess’ mom in the book but is true for so many and we see this play out all the time. Someone who is neglected or feels ignored or alone will seek out what they need or else it will find them. And when it finds them, it is likely not as healthy or good for them as it should be.
This carries over to what may also be happening on a larger scale to the town. The town is missing something spiritually and when Chambliss shows up they “take what they can get” and give themselves to him based on a feeling, without ever verifying that he is who he says he is or that he deserves their trust.
In the end of the book, Adelaide brings this full circle tying together the major themes of the book as well as the change that has happened to the town when she talks about healing and how people can heal and just as importantly, a church and a town can heal too, even after a tragedy like the one that occurred.
I’d give the book 3 stars.