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Gothic Thriller Takes Two Young Girls Down A 'Dark Road To Mercy'

Twelve-year-old Easter Quillby has learned to keep her expectations low in order to protect herself from more disappointment in life. It's a coping mechanism she developed to keep her and her 6-year-old sister, Ruby, safe after their mom unexpectedly passed away. But when their estranged dad kidnaps them from foster care, they're forced to live in the middle of his past and present mistakes — all the while trying to figure out what family is supposed to mean.

That's the premise of Wiley Cash's new novel, This Dark Road To Mercy. Cash introduced his Southern Gothic style in his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, which, like this latest book, takes place in a small town in North Carolina.

Cash tells Weekend Edition's Rachel Martin about the books narrators and why he chose to set it during Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's 1998 home run battle.

Interview Highlights

On Brady Weller, Easter and Ruby's court advocate and one of the book's three narrators

Brady is an ex-police officer and he's an ex-detective. He's got a bit of tragedy in his own past, and he's also, at the time of the novel's narration, he's estranged from his teenage daughter. So he's given the opportunity to care for these two young girls and kind of shepherd them through the legal system. And when they disappear, he feels an intense sense of responsibility, not only for their lives but also, in many ways, for his own.

On whether Robert Pruitt, another one of the book's narrators, is "not a good guy"

Wiley Cash teaches in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.
Tiffany B. Davis / Courtesy of HarperCollins
Courtesy of HarperCollins
Wiley Cash teaches in the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.

I think that's pretty fair. This is a guy that once had big dreams for himself, and his dreams are dashed when our anti-hero — or our lovable loser, Wade Chesterfield, the girls' father — when he throws a pitch and blinds Robert Pruitt and ends his baseball career. So he's out for revenge, he's out for blood and he's hot on the trail of this father and his two daughters.

On why he chose to set the story during the 1998 home run battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa

That's kind of an interesting juxtaposition. I think at first glance it would seem as if the story has nothing to do with baseball. But, you know, the home run race is something that came during a particularly cynical time in American political history.

In 1998, we had a lot of scandal in D.C. But at night, we'd all turn on the television and we'd sit down as a family and we'd watch these two American heroes try to break this famous record, and it really brought us all together. But now we look back and we realize that that was fiction, that none of that was true.

And so that's kind of what this novel is about: It's looking back at things that we once believed to be true — whether it's about our families or about ourselves or about our national obsessions — and asking ourselves, "Am I believing correctly? Am I seeing this with clear eyes?"

On Wade Chesterfield, the girls' dad, who is a washed-up minor-league baseball player

That's an American archetype, this failed college, high-school athlete. You know, I'm thinking of Al Bundy on Married With Children, who sells shoes in a women's department and every time he gets the chance goes back to the game-winning drive in his high school football game. You know, these failed athletes who want their lives to be more than what they were.

And I think Wade falls under that category. And I think it's almost an act of beauty to watch these people live in the past and to generate these myths and these legends about themselves and to be able to propel those myths and legends into the present. And it's also a tragedy — and there's beauty in that tragedy, and in the lives they create for themselves.

On the role that North Carolina plays in his fiction

I grew up in North Carolina, but I left North Carolina when I was 25 and I moved to Louisiana to go to graduate school. And as soon as I was there, I realized how desperately homesick for North Carolina I was. And so I started writing A Land More Kind Than Home, which is set in the North Carolina mountains. Every time I put pen to paper, it's an act of trying to reclaim a place I love, and a place that I miss and a place that I get to live in whenever I sit down to work.

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