Title: This Dark Road to Mercy
Author: Wiley Cash
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Twelve-year-old Easter and her younger sister Ruby are still reeling from their mother’s death, but life in foster care has been good to them. But the day that Easter sees her estranged father, Wade, at her baseball game, she knows that everything is about to change. Wade has signed away his parental rights, but still believes he has a right to his daughters. When he takes off with them, what he doesn’t realize is that he’ll be putting them in danger, as criminal actions in his past have come back to haunt him.
A gorgeously written and evocative Southern novel, This Dark Road to Mercy features well-developed characters and asks difficult questions without providing any easy answers for the reader.
I don’t usually like books with child narrators. I have nothing against the authors that write them; I just normally don’t appreciate the younger voice when reading a novel. There have been exceptions, of course, but for the most part, I tend to refrain from reading books with child narrators. When I decided to read Wiley Cash’s debut A Land More Kind Than Home, narrated by a child, I knew I was taking a chance. And what shocked me was that I absolutely loved it. Cash has an ability to capture childlike innocence without turning it into precociousness. There’s something about his characters, so when I discovered his second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, was releasing, I didn’t hesitate before picking it up.
Once again, Cash captivated me with his atmospheric writing style. He really knows how to write the South, its stifling humidity and oppressive atmosphere, combined with all the genteel warmth (with steel underneath). I loved immersing myself in his settings; his descriptive writing is an absolute treat, as you can tell from the beautifully evocative titles of his books.
It’s the characters, though, that make This Dark Road to Mercy worth the read. Easter is a smart, sharp little girl, and readers will enjoy getting to know her. But while she tells the primary story, Easter is not the only narrator in this novel. Readers are rewarded with multiple viewpoints, including that of the state-appointed guardian who will do anything to get these girls back to safety. Cash takes care developing each of his characters; it’s easy to get the sense that they have lived long, hard, emotional lives that will continue long after the last pages are turned. The grit and exhaustion in each of these characters, even young Easter, is amazing.
With all these characters, it may seem as though there’s no room for plot. Luckily, Cash is too talented of a writer to make that mistake; the tension ramps up slowly in This Dark Road to Mercy, but it’s always there just underneath the surface, reminding the reader that things could explode at any second. As the novel progresses, readers will be conflicted on who to root for, as things get murky very quickly. Indeed, there’s no black and white in Cash’s books. Instead, he poses thought-provoking questions, such as the nature of the parent-child relationship. Wade has given up parental rights to his daughters; what responsibility does he have? Legally, his position is clear, but morally?
It’s these questions that will leave readers thinking about This Dark Road to Mercy long after finishing it. It’s a surprisingly quick read, and one that is absolutely worth every second you spend with it.
Other books by Wiley Cash: