This was author Wiley Cash’s debut novel set in a small North Carolina town in the 1980’s. The story centers around a family – a young boy with an autistic brother they call “Stump”, his mother who attends a church which practices, among other things, snake handling, and a father who loves his family but has been estranged from his own father for several years.
Jess Hall is the younger of the two boys and he and Stump are inseparable, Jess being protective of his older brother who has never spoken a word in his life. His mother Julie attends the church led by Carson Chambliss, a shady sort of fellow for someone who claims to be a minister. The church windows are covered to conceal the activities inside and Jess’ dad Ben wants nothing to do with the church. Ben isn’t the only one in town disapproving of the church and its minister – Miss Adelaide Lyle takes it upon herself to shield the children from the goings on of the church, conducting her own classes for them while the adults worship in secrecy.
Curiosity, however, gets the best of Jess and his friend Joe Bill one day when they venture out to take a peek through an uncovered back window of the church. What they see is frightening to young Jess and eventually it leads to a tragic death, all of which is investigated by the local sheriff and concealed by the congregants and minister.
Other reviews of the book cite references to other works of Southern fiction, such as To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s definitely that kind of book with the story revolving around nine-year old Jess Hall. The story alternates between the use of three narrators – Miss Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall and the sheriff. The strongest elements involve faith, marriage (and infidelity), and family secrets – all of which combine for a compelling story told in a way some have called “lyrical”.
It’s definitely a great first effort by Wiley Cash and I look forward to reading more from him. I’ll have a review soon of his second book, This Dark Road to Mercy.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!
© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!