Author – Wiley Cash
Published – 29 March 2012
Genre – Contemporary fiction
This is a thought-provoking debut novel by Cash, set in his home state of North Carolina. Dealing with an unconventional aspect of religion in the US, the story is told from three different perspectives – local matriarch Adelaide Lyle, sheriff Clem Barefield. and nine-year-old Jess Hall.
One Sunday morning Jess’s brother, Christopher, is taken away by Pastor Chambliss from the Sunday school Adelaide holds outside the church. Overcome by curiosity Jess and his best friend sneak down to the church – an old general store with yellowing newspaper covering the windows – to take a look inside. But this is no ordinary church, it’s “River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following”, and the Pastor is a believer in the power of healing, drinking poison and snake-handling. So Jess finds it hard to understand what he sees through the window.
Through Jess’s tale of the events leading up to the Pastor’s interest in his brother, and the backstory told by the Sheriff and Adelaide, we learn something of the town’s history and the influence of the Pastor on its inhabitants.
This isn’t an expose on the less conventional approach to religion – we don’t hear from anyone who is a believer or a worshipper in the Church. In the Sheriff we have a narrator who is looking for the rational explanation for events, and he has a history with Jess’s family which may or may not influence how he deals with what happens to Christopher. Adelaide’s upbringing is unconventional and although she has her own strong beliefs, her experience with the pastor has stopped her attending the church.
What the reader sees from Jess’s perspective explains the story, but Jess is unable to see the whole story for himself. The tension in the story is waiting to see if he will tell his version of events, and if so to whom.
For someone who reads a lot of crime fiction this felt quite slow to get going, it’s a terrible habit to be waiting for something to happen in every book! It’s quite a small story with a limited cast of characters, but they’re all well written and very believable, and you do hope that the truth will prevail.
The story is beautifully written, and Cash really captures the small town feel of this part of America, a place that feels as if time has passed it by.
Many thanks to Transworld for the review copy of this book.
You can see another review of this over at Notes of Life.
Score – 4/5