Cash’s debut novel is a chilling descent into the world of religious frenzy in small town North Carolina. At the core of the book is a mysterious and demonic pastor, Carson Chambliss, an ex-con and born-again believer who uses snakes and poison to prove God’s love: he seduces the town with raucous church meetings where they dance, heal, and speak in tongues until one Sunday a mute child dies during evening service. The novel is narrated from multiple perspectives, taking us deep into the minds of the dead boy’s younger brother, Jess, of sheriff Barefield who investigates the crime and has his own past demons to run from, and of Adelaide Lyle, an old healer and midwife who’s spent her life grasping after faith and has had her own run-ins with Pastor Chambliss. The story weaves back and forth through time, as the traumas of the past emerge to trouble the present, and the dead boy’s father seeks justice through violence and drink. The distinctive and authentic voices of the characters help Cash draw a moving portrait of smalltown life and the power of belief. Though the story falls within the tradition of Southern gothic, the strangeness and horror remain distant in the characters’ laconic narration. And while it gestures toward big questions about the nature of religion and the genesis of evil, it is more concerned with melodrama and tragedy. But the book is compelling, with an elegant structure and a keen eye for detail, matched with compassionate attention to character. The languid atmosphere seduces, and Cash’s fine first effort pulls the reader into a shadowy, tormented world where wolves prowl in the guise of sheep. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Associates. (Apr. 17)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2012 Release date: 04/01/2012 Genre: Fiction
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