Jess Hall and his best friend sneak out of Sunday School to eavesdrop on the adult service, seeing something so frightening that Jess inadvertently interferes with the service. That small interruption then creates a family tragedy that soon involves the church and several other members of their rural North Carolina community.
I think Cash intends for the book to uphold a certain kind of faith. I read it as an examination of faith’s impotence and power. People turn to religion for aid and help, but find none. Meanwhile, it often leads them to alienate and harm the people who really do care for them, and many others, too. That seemed to be the case with many of the characters, at least. I say seems because Cash draws them sympathetically and mysteriously. Even the most patently fraudulent among them – the pastor, Carson Chambliss – left me wondering whether he might have been sincere.
As with most southern writing, the book felt too consciously rural. I know lots of country people. None are named Adelaide, or Clem, or Joe Bill. None have privies, either. The mix of kindness, ignorance, religion, alcohol and violence is spot-on, though.