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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What I’m Reading: This Dark Road to Mercy

Way back in February, I read This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash.  Let me begin by saying I was one of the many LOVERS of Cash’s debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home.  And, while I did not love TDRTM as much, I still found it to be very good.  [It is hard when ALMKTH was pretty close to perfect. ] I am also struck by how much of what I found appealing about ALMKTH is the same here in TDRTM just to a slightly lesser degree.  If you are new to Wiley Cash, click here for my ALMKTH review.

Here’s the set up for TDRTM. We are in North Carolina.  It’s 1995.  Our narrators are a Easter, a young girl who along with her sister, Ruby, lives in foster care after the death of their mother, Brad Weller, their social worker, and Robert Pruitt, an ex-con with a grudge against Easter’s Dad.

The narration goes back in forth between the three as we follow the story of Wade, Easter’s dead beat, former minor league baseball star Dad, as he tries to get his girls back.  Wade convinces the girls to escape into the night with him.  They go since there only other option is to move to Alaska to live with the grandparents they have never met. Brady and Pruitt are both looking for Wade but each man has different intentions on what they want to do with him once they find him.

Like ALMKTH there is violence and tension here, enough to make more delicate readers uncomfortable.  Let me say, Wade is just a loser, but Pruitt is a bad, bad man, and since he takes his turns telling the story, it can get intense.

Easter was okay to me.  She grew on me, but I never loved her, but I really liked Brady.  And Pruitt was a great villain. The characters drive the action, but overall, I did not inhabit them as I did in ALMKTH. I think if Easter was a bit stronger, I would have LOVED this book.  I am hearing that from other readers too.  Once they get past Easter’s opening chapters and keep going, they really get into the book.

Again the landscape plays a part in the story.  For example, the first time Easter and Ruby see the ocean after years of living so close but never getting there was heartbreakingly beautiful.

This is modern Southern Gothic, psychological suspense that is compellingly paced, but not brisk.  As the pacing begins to drag with one narrator, we switch voices and it starts building again.  Although like other psychological suspense stories, the tension builds and the pacing increases as we race toward the finish. And I loved the climax here.

The most strikingly genius thing about this novel is how Cash uses the 1995 home run record race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa to play with the tone of the novel.  Let me explain.  Like all of us were during the summer of 1995, the characters in the novel are wrapped up in the race for the HR record.  People are giddy over it.  Everyone, everywhere is following it.  The novel’s climax even happens at a Cubs-Cardinals game.  Back in 1995, we were all excited by this.  It made you smile to hear about who hit how many home runs no matter how bad a day you had. Everyone was talking about Sosa and McGuire and their home runs.  It was the lead story on the news every night, all over America.

But that was 1995.  Cash published this book in 2014.  The reader in 2014 can remember back to that innocent age and now knows it was all a sham and a fraud!  The double entendre of feelings-- remembering our pure joy and having the frustration and sadness that it was all because of steroids that it was possible-- adds a unique unsettling quality to the entire book.  It is subtle and brilliant.

Overall, TDRTM is just a little more straight forward than ALMKTH.  The atmosphere is there, but it is not an overriding appeal. The characters are good, but not great. The story is interesting and compelling, but will not haunt you.  However, I am giving it out to readers constantly and they seem to be enjoying it, again, one they get past Easter’s opening and move into Brady.  If they can make it to Pruitt’s first chapters, they are usually hooked.

I myself liked it and would be willing to read Cash’s next book.

Three Words That Describe This Book: psychological suspense, southern gothic, multiple narrators

Readalikes:  Click here for my first round of Cash readalikes, including John Hart who would be your best bet match especially for this novel.  Click here to my review of The Last Child, which is a good suggestion here too.

Specifically with TDRTM, if you want more books about the foster care system, another good option is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. The link is to my report from when our book group read that novel.

Also, many people will enjoy this book for the large baseball frame.  This happens to be a personal favorite frame of mine and I have blogged about it many times.  Click here to pull up tons of baseball suggestions. I would also specifically suggest The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach as a readalike for more reasons than just the baseball frame.

For a more traditional psychological suspense involving sisters try Ruth Rendell’s The Water’s Lovely.

Finally, on NoveList I found a perfect "title to title" suggestion, Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng. Here is an excerpt from the reason why: "These richly atmospheric Southern Gothic novels are simultaneously brutal, lyrical, and moving, filled with memorable characters and desperate adventures. Couldnt have said it better myself.

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