Up beyond Asheville, near where Gunter Mountain falls into Tennessee, evil has come to preach in a house of worship where venomous snakes and other poisons are sacraments.
Cash’s debut novel explores Faulkner/O’Connor country, a place where folks endure a hard life by clinging to God’s truths echoing from hardscrabble churches. With Southern idiom as clear as crystal mountain air, Cash weaves the narrative from multiple threads. Jess Hall is the 9-year-old son of Ben and Julie and beloved younger brother of gentle Stump, his mute, autistic sibling. Clem Barefield is county sheriff, a man with a moral code as tough, weathered and flexible as his gun belt. Adelaide Lyle, once a midwife, is now community matriarch of simple faith and solid conscience. Carson Chambliss is pastor of River Road Church of Christ. He has caught Stump spying, peering into the bedroom of his mother Julie, while she happened to be entertaining the amoral pastor. Julie may have lapsed into carnal sin, but she is also a holy fool. Chambliss convinces Julie to bring Stump to the church to be cured by the laying on of hands. There, Stump suffers a terrible fate. Cash’s characters are brilliant: Chambliss, scarred by burns, is as remorseless as one of his rattlesnakes; Addie, loyal to the old ways, is still strong enough to pry the church’s children away from snake-handling services; Barefield is gentle, empathetic and burdened by tragedy. Stump’s brother Jess is appealingly rendered—immature, confused and feeling responsible for and terrified by the evil he senses and sees around him. As lean and spare as a mountain ballad, Cash’s novel resonates perfectly, so much so that it could easily have been expanded to epic proportions.
An evocative work about love, fate and redemption.