The title of the book is taken from Thomas Wolfe's You Can’t Go Home Again
, referring to death as how we “find a land more kind than home, more large than earth,” so you have to expect some unpleasantness before we come to the end.
Evil arrives in garish togs. Carson Chambliss is a reverend of suspect provenance. He comes to town, takes over an unused church, papers over the windows and mesmerizes his congregation with some very old-time religion. He seems particularly taken with snakes, handling them, using them as a test of faith, and finding some other uses besides. He is a big believer in faith healing. A considerable scar has marred his hand and who know how far up the damage goes? No shades of gray here, CC is a baddie. He brings not only his somewhat charred history and odd passions, but real danger to some of the inhabitants of Madison, North Carolina, a sleepy tobacco-growing town.
The story is told through the eyes of three narrators, Sheriff Clem Barefield, Adelaide Lysle and young Jess Hall. Jess is an ordinary kid, curious, energetic, but with a bit more on his shoulders than other ten or eleven year olds. His older brother Christopher, who everyone calls Stump, was born mute, autistic most likely, and Jess looks out for him. Stump and Jess do a bit of spying and see something they shouldn’t, setting in motion a wildfire of deceit, violence and revenge that affects much of the town.
Sheriff Barefield, charged with trying to keep the peace in town, has some personal history that still haunts him and affects how he goes about his business.
Addie Lysle heroically acts as a guardian angel, trying to keep Chambliss from harming the town’s children. She tells of her battles with evil, but how much protection can one woman provide?
Is this a tale of good versus evil? CC is definitely evil, no question. And Adelaide Lysle, stands strongly for good, but there are diverse forces lined up against CC and most of them have chinks in their moral armor. Jess withholds critical information. Jess’ father, Ben, has issues with anger and another kind of withholding. The sheriff allows his anger at old events get the better of him. The only real innocent here is Stump, but he is not really involved in the battle. Maybe this is more a case of human versus evil.
Can you ever go home again? I guess it depends on why you left and what remains there that might still retain a hold. Is location destiny? We are told of one man who burned his own home because he thought the devil lived there. No going home again for him. Maybe a home being on particularly high ground made its residents susceptible to tragedy living in a lowland, or in town house would have avoided. Might it be that a childhood home rich in religion can make one feel that church is a home?
This is an impressive first novel. Cash has crafted engaging characters, a story that will keep you burning through the pages, and enough content to make the journey worth your time. Hopefully your home is a kind enough place in which to read this and you do not have to go looking for something kinder.
Here is a piece by the author that is worth reading.