...But the book itself was an enjoyable read.
The novel is set in Marshall, NC, which made this even more delightful for me since I tend to enjoy local fare. I guess I like Southern fiction too (in addition to my realization that I like fantasy) because the writing style and mood reminded me of Michael Parker, a local author who I enjoy reading. His novel, If You Want Me to Stay, was my favorite book of the year for 2007 and I've read two more with the rest on my must read list.
These types of novels are not easy reads. They are depressing and sad, with characters that have a hard life. Wiley Cash divides his chapters into characters (hmmm...George R.R. Martin anyone?) viewpoint. In this case, there are three narrators: Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall and Clem Barefield. They are all wonderful and we learn a bit of history of the town folks - the other main characters involved in the story - as we read about the shit going on in the now.
The story centers around a crazy church, where there are snakes involved, tongues are spoken, and people attempt to heal a 13 year old boy who has been mute from the day he was born.
The mom to Christopher Hall, AKA "Stump", is caught up in this church and especially in the pastor, Carson Chambliss. Despite being shocked by the first healing, which Jess Hall, the younger 9 year old brother to Stump, witnessed without permission, Jess's mom returns with Stump to continue the "healing", which results in Stump's death.
Adelaide Lyle is no fan of Pastor Chambliss after witnessing a parishioner years earlier get bit by the poisonous snakes from Pastor Chambliss and dying in the church. Instead of fessing up to the tragic death -- but proclaiming the parishioner was brave for finding faith to attempt this 'holding of the snake' -- the pastor and other members of the church placed her dead body in her garden in an attempt to make it appear that she was just gardening and got bit by a snake.
It worked. But Adelaide knew the truth and kept it to herself. She kept it but she bullied the sinister Chambliss to keep the children out of the church and watches over them...also being one that doesn't return to the church.
But she is a religious woman, a righteous woman. And after Stump's death, Chambliss summons her to the church to speak to her. He wants to ensure she doesn't say anything to the authorities, as they investigate Stump's death. He knows she does not approve of what happened to Stump because he knows how she felt about the death, years earlier.
He asks her if she knows her bible...about Matthew 9:33, where it says 'when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke'. He also brings up Matthew 17...'about the man who brought his son to Jesus because he was sick with a disease brought on by a demon and the disciples didn't have the faith enough to heal him.'
Adelaide, again, a very religious woman, replies how she 'knows both of them stories' and has read them many, many times. Chambliss replies that if the parishioners had a little more faith, the boy would have been healed and the demon cast out. Adelaide responds wonderfully (like I know this woman):
"You ain't no Jesus," I said. "And Christopher didn't have no demon in him. He was born that way; I was there when he came into this world, and I can tell you God makes us how he needs tus to be. I'd think about that the next time you go off on some idea about trying to change things you ain't got any business changing. I might be afraid of tempting that kind of power."Ah yes. Wouldn't I like to tell many people this...snakes or no snakes...
Jess Hall is also a great character who watched for his older brother. He tried to keep him from going back to the church, after seeing the congregation nearly suffocate him in their "healing". He witnesses a terrible end to his family life at the end of this great story and his perception on the folks around him is well beyond what a 9 year old would normally think like.
Lastly is Clem Barefield, who is sort of the stereotypical sheriff a small town: confident, got the town under control kind of guy. But his story is sad too and we read about how his son was killed in an explosion many, many years ago, under the supervision of Jess and Stump's no good grand-dad, who just happened to come back into town. As he recounts the death of his son (Jeff), to which he was called to the scene, not knowing if it was his son or not, he says this:
I couldn't keep from thinking about how unfair it would be if it was Jeff. But since then I've learned to just go ahead and take fairness out of the equation. If you do, things stand the chance of making a whole lot more sense.I look forward to reading more from Wiley Cash.