Buzz builds for new novel, ‘This Dark Road to Mercy,’ by UNC Asheville graduate Wiley Cash

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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wiley_cash_2014 Buzz is building about the latest novel from author Wiley Cash, who graduated from UNC Asheville with his bachelor’s degree in literature. Cash, who received grants and fellowships from the Asheville Area Arts Council and the Thomas Wolfe Society among others, is being placed in the same company as literary stars such as Clyde Edgerton and Joyce Carol Oates.

I can’t wait to read the new one.

Here’s the press release:

Even as Thomas Wolfe warns us that we can’t go home again, some of us do so anyway, and are glad that we did.

Wiley Cash, whose debut novel “A Land More Kind Than Home” was one of the great success stories of 2012 (New York Times best-seller, an Indie Next best-seller, a New York Times Notable Book award, the Maine Readers’ Choice winner, a Kirkus Reviews Best of 2012 award, a Library Journal Top Ten listing, and many more honors), has just moved back to his native North Carolina.

“I love it,” he said of his new house in Wilmington. “I just wish I had more time to get settled in.”

He doesn’t, though. The big splash of that first novel has made Cash’s follow-up one of the more anticipated publishing events of 2014. “This Dark Road to Mercy” is due out from Morrow/Harper Collins on January 28, and the author is already packing his bags for an old-fashioned sort of publicity tour that will take him through bookstores and radio stations as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and west out to Texas.

Cash teaches on the faculty of Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program, but since that’s a low-residency program, it never interfered with other and previous on-campus teaching stints in Louisiana and West Virginia.

So Cash has never left the South, per se, but in returning to North Carolina he reclaims the primary source of his fiction. “A Land More Kind Than Home,” which is set in rural North Carolina, is kicked into motion by the death of a mute boy during a church service. The service is presided over by a renegade pastor who has introduced snake-handling into the practices of his evangelical congregation.

Cash himself was raised in an evangelical church in the small town of Gastonia, and is acquainted with that fierce and secretive brand of Christianity. “This Dark Road to Mercy” takes its inspiration from that same church, but in a different way, and on behalf of a very different story.

“I knew two sisters in our congregation who came to Gastonia out of the foster care system to live with their birth mother,” Cash said. “But they weren’t very well looked after. The fifteen-year-old acquired a boyfriend who was 22, and the twelve-year-old was going with a guy who was 30.”

The adult boyfriends sold drugs together, and one night they murdered both sisters. “I remember reading about that in the newspaper,” Cash said, “and being moved by how vulnerable those two girls were. All they had, really, was each other.”

In Cash’s new novel the sisters are younger, twelve and nine, and they don’t have boyfriends. But their drug-addled mother dies in bed one night, and the girls are placed in a foster home—until their long-vanished father, enriched by some money he shouldn’t have and with some tough customers on his trail, kidnaps them from that home.

Both stories are grim, dark-hued, but lit at their hearts by the possibility of redemption. Kirkus Reviews says that Cash “follows his evocative debut with another striking take on Southern literature. . . . A story of family, blood loyalty, and making choices that can seem right but end up wrong.”

Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal places “This Dark Road to Mercy”—along with new novels by Isabelle Allende and Joyce Carol Oates—among her four fiction picks for February. Recalling Cash’s first novel, Hoffert writes that his second “promises the same at-the-edge emotional involvement.”

In Wilmington, Cash joins a rich cultural community that includes such fellow novelists and short story writers as Rebecca Lee, Clyde Edgerton, and Jason Mott. And as he prepares to venture well beyond the South in promoting this new novel, he is grateful for the hold that the South continues to command on the national imagination.

“Wherever you go, there remains curiosity about the culture of this part of the country, and its institutions, and even its perceived backwardness,” he said. ‘Just look at some of the most popular shows on TV now—‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘True Blood,’ even ‘Breaking Bad’—and where they originate from. This is a curiosity that didn’t die out with Mark Twain, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Kate Chopin.”

Richard Adams Carey, assistant director of Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA program, says that Cash would be a treasured member of his faculty no matter where he hailed from.

“Wiley’s just a powerful and propulsive storyteller, hands down,” said Carey. “But certainly his themes and subject matter draw sustenance from the rich tradition of Southern literature, and now further enrich that tradition. He’s living in—and writing from—a good place.”

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. Dusty January 21, 2014

    Wiley and I were good friends when we attended UNCA together. He’s a fantastic guy. My guess on the Wilmington move is possibly academia related.

  2. lisa January 20, 2014

    so looking forward to this book! loved his first!

  3. Joanne January 20, 2014

    His wife’s family is from there and his parents live on Oak Island (found this out interviewing him this morning!).

    1. Jason Sandford January 20, 2014

      Thanks Joanne!

  4. Fiction Lover January 20, 2014

    Any idea why Cash decided to settle in Wilmington, rather than, say, Asheville?

    1. Jason Sandford January 20, 2014

      I don’t know, but I’m gonna ask him!


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