Cash studied with [a:Ernest Gaines|3533|Ernest J. Gaines|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1255909167p2/3533.jpg], and I have to say though they write of two different places and people, as a reader I can see Gaines' influence and style and how that has shaped Cash's work. It's almost like Cash molded the pottery and it has the tiniest of thumbprints around the rim where Gaines has rubbed off. It's great to see that inspiration cultivated into a unique piece of literature.
The central event of the novel is a quick strike of horror and grief: a young boy is killed as the result of some zealous church-goers trying to cure him of being mute. One of the narrators is the victim's brother, another the Sheriff, and a third is a Sunday school teacher. Their chapters are woven together to provide history to the town and to the characters. We get different perspectives of who is to blame and who is responsible, not just for this crime but for past hurt as well.
While I have no personal connection to the subject matter of evangelical snake-handling congregations, Cash writes in such a way that it's like reading the familiar. You lapse into the slow Southern twang, and the feel of the novel becomes very natural and genuine-- even when the characters are manipulators or manipulated. And despite that familiarity of place and of knowing the setting intimately, the reader never feels quite safe. Just like being an outsider in a small town, secrets are kept from you. And you can never get too comfortable with the schema you have concocted for someone.
It was an intense book, and I'd encourage Charles Frazier fans to pick it up (especially if they liked his [b:Nightwoods|10962765|Nightwoods|Charles Frazier|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1331671570s/10962765.jpg|15880539] book), and I'd even say that if some [a:Jodi Picoult|7128|Jodi Picoult|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1339242079p2/7128.jpg] fans want something a little different but still personal and gripping, they'd probably find something of value here.
For a debut novel, I'm beyond impressed. Cash knows exactly how wide to set the scope, so readers get only the the most necessary information for the story. There's no fluff or heavy-handed metaphors. It's well controlled. I can't say I loved the story (it's never anything but depressing to read about immense grief), but I loved the way it was told.