Sometimes I analyze the weirdest things. The other day I caught myself thinking about Oreo Cookies. For several minutes I mulled over the simple complexities of the Oreo. Its so simple, yet so good. Two chocolate wafers with a cream filling between. Nothing much there to it, and yet brilliantly constructed. Beauty truly can be found in the mundane.
I found myself pulling on this same thread when thinking about Tobacco Road. Erskine Caldwell introduces us the the Lesters, whom the descriptions of simple would be an understatement. They don't have much, and not just in the material sense, but in the intellectual category as well. This simple family lives on a simple road, in a simple town, in a simple county. And yet within that simplicity is a deep complexity that like the Oreo cookie, will have you coming back for more.
This is one of those novels were the imagery runs deep and you are going to have to take several passes at this to catch it all. After only one reading of this novel there was 3 themes that kept coming back to me. If anything Caldwell's book made me do a lot of reflecting and mulling over these forth coming thoughts.
The land the Lesters live on, which they are supposed to farm, which is supposed to provide for them, is what is ultimately their downfall. The land is covered with overgrowth and useless trees that can not be sold for fire wood. It is depleted of its nutrients, its life giving elements. Ultimately it is no good to this family and in the end, the land ultimately destroys them. I see this as a easy parallel to the materialism of our current culture. It the sirens calls for happiness, contentment, and life. But like the land it leaves us wanting more, barren, and unsatisfied.
I also kept going back to the fact that Jeeter was either unwilling or usable to change with the current times. It seemed that farming and specifically farming cotton was no longer a viable means of occupation in this region and yet Jeeter insisted on continuing this tradition. Even if it meant starvation. I kept oscillating between respect for Jeeter for continuing what he believed in and disgust for his selfishness and inability to change for the good of his family. It made me reflect on what am I unwilling to change despite the obviously shift in the culture and how do you decide what ideas are important enough to take to the grave and draw a line in the sand?
It also struck me that this novel was completely void of any selfless acts. I am unable to think of a character who actions were not motivated by self interest. Every actions was rooted in selfishness. It was a worrisome look into a culture that is unable to look outside itself.
If you are looking for a summer beach novel, this is not for you. But if you are looking for a short novel to discuss with others, or contemplate with yourself, then take a trip down Tobacco Road
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word. Ordinary Grace By William Kent Krueger
Something has spoken to me in the night.... and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: "Death is to lose the earth you know, for a greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for a greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for a greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth"- Thomas Wolf You Can't Go Home Again
I usually don't read opening quotes to books. They occasionally have some connection with the pending story but I often interperate them as simple kick starter that are not of extreme importance. To be honest, I usually do not spend more than a few moments on them. I don't think that I purposely ignore them, but I don't conciously acknowledge them. For whatever reason, this opening quote from Wiley Cash debut novel caught my attention. A land more kind than home? What could be more kind than home? Is not home is where your feet seem the most grounded? Is not home where you developed you identity? Have we not all been away from home and longed to return? The uniqueness of this opining epigraphy really drew me in immediately and sets the tone for this novel based in the North Carolina mountains.
In the town of Marshall North Carolina, Carson Chambliss is pastor of River Road Church. Most churches have a pretty standard look. Beautiful facades, manicured lawns, a cross, possibly some stain glass windows. River Road Church has its front windows covered with old news paper so you can't see in. Not your traditional church building decor. Inside River Road Church the service is nothing but traditional either. Chambliss holds a mystical effect and control over the congregations and to some extent over the town of Marshall. He can bend and mold the congregation like a snake charmer. In fact a snake charmer is a very accurate description of Chambliss as he uses snakes frequently during his services to test the "faith" of his congregation. Do you believe enough for the snake to not bite you? Do you have real faith? Our view into the town of Marshall and the River Road Church is seen through three main characters Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall, and Clem Barefield.
The main character, Jess Hall, was a boy who was forced to grow up in the few minutes of a passing event. Boyhood to manhood passed over him like a clouds shadow without his knowledge. You instantly connect with him as you long for him to be able to remain in his childhood, but River Road Church won't allow that. The church has always made Jess and his brother stump uncomfortable, especially Pastor Chambliss. But they are just boys, so they look to Adelaide Lyle for some protection and guidance. Adelaide is a former member of River Road Church. Former member by choice and yet not by choice. She tries desperately to keep the children of River Road Church away from seeing into those covered front windows. Adelaide knows whats behind those windows, and does not want to be responsible when what was covered becomes uncovered. Clem Barefield is Marshall's sherif. Barefield is dragged into connection with River Road Church despite his reluctance. Especially with his own tregedy not fully healed. All three charters in their own way battle with the time and space before them and each tackle their own quest for a land more kind than home.
I am going to do something I am sure is not recommended for a book review. Especially the first one on a new blog. I don't want to get into too many specifics of this novel because thats not necessarily what I loved about it. For me this was not about the details of the story, It was not about the unexpected twist and turns, or a plot that develops appropriately. It about the basic elements of this story that ring true in human experience. Love, Faith, Power, Redemption, Regret, Forgiveness, Expectation, Loneliness, Brotherhood, and Selflessness to name few. These are the emotions that we experience in our day to day lives. These are the elements that we all make connections too. These are the roots, and the rest is just details. A Land More Kind Than Home is able to tap into these main emotions foremost and orchestrates the details around these elements masterfully. When you come to the end you don't want it to end not just because its a great story (it is, but there area a lot of great stories), but because it tapped into an experience and emotion that we can collectively relate too.
This beautifully written novel gets better with each page. It has all the same ingredients of another Southern set classics To Kill A Mockingbird. As any good book does, it makes you think and ponder. The question that kept coming back to my mind was; what land for me is more kind than home? Every time I sat and thought about that questions one quote kept sweeping back into my mind. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” -C.S.Lewis. I kept thinking that this land we inhabit now, while good, is not perfect. And one day we will inhabit a land more kind than what we currently call home.
As the young main character Jess Hall frequently kicks up dust as he walks down a beaten path, shuffle through this novel slowly. And as you do, watch the path you create as you ponder your own land more kind than home.
For several years, I have mentioned to friends that I have wanted to start a book club, or open a bookstore, or start a book blog. I thought it was time that I stopped talking about something and start doing. So this is my start. The Lakeside Cover. I want to cover all things books. I hope to cover book reviews, possibly author interviews, literature topics, and even a possible book club (the dream is still alive). Mainly, I hope to provide a small space to foster discussion for those who enjoy all things books as well. I enjoy all sorts of books and I plan on covering a wide range of genres. I think you will find something that peaks your interest and I am always open to suggestions. I would by no means call myself a writer, so please don't judge this blog by its cover!
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.