Lately, I haven’t been reading very much. I’ve started more books than I’ve finished and I regretfully must say I still haven’t finished “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (*awaits literary judgment*)
The problem hasn’t been so much that I don’t have time. It’s been that I haven’t gotten hooked on anything. I’m a pretty patient reader. I usually give every book at least 100 pages before deciding I need to quit reading it. And rarely, once I get that far, do I quit. But I haven’t been able to get into any story I’ve started recently.
Maybe that’s a sign I need to write my own. Or maybe it was a sign I needed to read something different.
Before I read “A Land More Kind Than Home” by western NC-born author Wiley Cash, I’d been reading YA novels, classics and struggling to decide which Gregory Maguire novel to choose next. I’d go to bookstores and not find anything. It felt unusual.
Then I decided I should try some regional authors. Maybe their home would seem familiar to mine; maybe I would get into their stories. I picked up ‘Land’ and immediately, the book’s scenes opened up in my imagination like a flower that had long waited to bloom.
The crime was intriguing, the sheriff relatable, the coming-of-age boy familiar. But what really hit it for me was its ties to crazy religion and western North Carolina, two things I’m pretty darn familiar with, both from seeing and experiencing them firsthand, and reading and talking about them with others.
From the moment Pastor Chambliss started handling snakes and screaming, “Glory!” – I knew I was in a familiar place. But I won’t tarry on the whole crazy religious people part. That’s for another blog post, or another story in itself.
What I do want to share is my five favorite quotes and truths from Cash’s novel.
Because sometimes we do things we can’t take back, and we need to go away and leave folks alone and let them forget us for a while.
This is said by the boy’s grandfather, who left his town and family for years after an accident that killed someone else’s son. This sentence resonated with me. Sometimes people do need time to forgive. Sometimes they do need time to forget.
I’d seen where that pink skin ran up to his shoulder and covered his chest like chewing gum does when you blow a bubble and it pops and spreads itself out across your cheeks.
This metaphor was so perfect that even though I haven’t seen very many people injured by serious burns or explosions, I could envision exactly what it looked like.
And the Lord knows that when people don’t get what they need they take what they can find…
I loved this quote, because it is so true of human nature. It’s referencing the boy’s mother, who, distant from her husband and family, finds welcome in a deceptive, ungodly church.
I looked down at my hand and I thought about trying to slide that splinter right out, and I took my finger and felt where the end of it stuck out of my palm. The rest of it was right there just beneath my skin like a branch that’s frozen just under the surface of a pond in the wintertime.
‘Quit messing with that splinter,’ Mama said. ‘You’re just going to work it down in there deeper, and then I won’t ever be able to get it out.’
Another beautiful metaphor hidden in a few paragraphs packed with depth. I love the imagery in this section, and the double meaning behind his mother’s words. You get something evil or bad under your skin and the more you mess with it, the deeper it’s going to get.
The last passage I want to share is a beautiful description by one of the main narrators, an older lady named Adelaide who cares for the children at the church. Adelaide has a dream, a vision, where she sees Jesus and her aunt, who died from the cold in her mountain home.
She looked straight and strong and shiny like a new silver dollar. I knew that I was going to wake up before I got to the top of that hill where she was waiting. Jesus must’ve known it, too, for I felt his graying beard against my cheek and I could hear his breath in my ear where he walked right along beside me.
‘Look at her, Addie,’ he whispered. ‘That’s what immortality looks like.’
This was probably my most favorite passage. I highly encourage you to read this book. It kickstarted again my urge to read, kind of like you have to kickstart a motorcycle that’s been sitting idle for a while. My reading muscles were being lazy. Wiley Cash woke them up.
Have you read any novels by North Carolina writers, or by writers from your home state? What did you think of them? How do familiar settings make us think about our own home?