Novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, This Dark Road to Mercy, The Last Ballad
Wiley Cash is both a miraculous writer of thrillers and suspense novels, while also summoning the Southern Gothic nature of O’Connor and Faulkner. While my favorite of his still remains This Dark Road to Mercy, there are strong merits to each of his novels, and you can fly through them so speedily, so engrossed by language and story, that you will find yourself having finished one of his novels in less than half a day. As a slow reader myself, I found that I could finish one of Mr. Cash’s novel so quickly—the language and dialect so true to the South, the visuals so cinematic and stunning. While A Land More King Than Home deals with two brothers who have to face the consequences of living in a place like North Carolina, This Dark Road to Mercy is a more straight-forward relationship dealing with two sisters and their father, both on the run from someone—you’ll have to read to figure out who. His final and most recent book, which made my MysteryPeople top 10 books of last year, is a divinely produces and driven at times by fast pace adrenaline, was considered a contender for the Pulitzer Prize and generally accepted as one of the best books of the year. While these novels do speak to me as a lover of literary mysteries and thrillers, they also transcend the genre in the ways that Megan Abbott’s newest books or Laura Lippman’s standalones move past simple mysteries and open up worlds we might not normally see or be aware of. Cash writes about race, class, and other pressing issues that are still prevalent today in the Southern regions (and elsewhere, too—we shouldn’t assume white privilege is only an issue in the South) of the United States, Cash is capable of creating characters of all types, usually working-class white men and women, but also people of color both in sometimes modern day North and South Carolina. The books engross you in a way that few other writers are capable of doing, and in the meantime, they deal with larger issues than many of Cash’s contemporaries. While Cash isn’t necessarily as capable of tackling the topic of race as, say, Ms. Lippman, he does his best to try and captivate the reader with his realistic depictions of different sorts of people. His most recent novel, The Last Ballad, goes in and out of modern day and early 1900s North Carolina, revolving around the life and death of a mother and an activist who was killed in the early 1900s. Meanwhile, This Dark Road to Mercy, a personal favorite, deal with a father who is on the run, the mother of his children dead, and he trying to rescue them while also attempting to save themselves. This Dark Road to Mercy shows Mr. Cash’s talents at his best. He manages to capture the voices of multiple people, including the young girl whose father takes her on the trip of their lives—across the Carolinas and into Myrtle Beach of all places, a city that captures the dirtiness and desperation of Southern lives, with its pavilion filled with blinking lights, a Southern version of Las Vegas. Cash is not afraid to dig into the noir and gothic nature of his writing, as well as fully develop his characters (and in just a few pages) while driving forward with tension, plot, and danger. Cash is not just a book read, a book club novel, or a novel to dive into on a rainy day. The masterful nature of Mr. Cash’s novels is something that should not be looked over or ignored: he may not be Faulkner, but he might be as close as we get (other than, say Woodrell) in this day and age where many Southern writers lack the respect and dedicated following they so often deserve. Mr. Cash teaches at UNC Asheville and is, hopefully, working on a new novel as you read this. Go out and pick up a copy of one of his books immediately.