NOVEL IDEAS - The Missourian: Feature Stories

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NOVEL IDEAS

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Posted: Saturday, April 21, 2012 12:00 am

With 30 pages to go, I set “A Land More Kind Than Home” aside because I didn’t want it to end. Hats off to Wiley Cash, a debut author sure to have a hit on his hands with a thrilling, chilling Southern novel set in the backwoods of North Carolina in the 1980s.

It’s a certainty you won’t forget Cash’s bad guy. He ranks right up there with Anton Chigurh, in “No Country for Old Men,” by Cormac McCarthy.

Cash’s “evil personified” is a religious zealot who holds a Bible in one hand and a rattlesnake in the other as he preaches fire and brimstone to a congregation of sheep willing to be led to the slaughter. And flock to Chambliss they do, enduring pain and tempting death, at the hands of a psychotic maimed from a meth blowup he swears was in God’s plan, transforming him from evil to redemption.

Julie is a woman searching for peace as her marriage to Joe unravels. The chasm between them begins with the birth of “Stump,” their oldest son, who has never spoken. Julie attends the church where yellowed newspapers cover the windows so no one can see inside and succumbs to Chambliss, body and soul. At his bidding, Julie takes “Stump” to church so the preacher can rid the boy of the demons that have stilled his voice. The tragic results spark a chain of horrifying events.

The compelling narrative alternates in chapters told from three characters’ points of view: Adeladie Lyle, a caring midwife present at “Stump’s” birth, a woman with the good of the community at heart; the town’s sheriff, Clem Barefield, scarred from the loss of his adult son; and Jess Hall, “Stump’s” little brother, a child who doesn’t understand his mother’s attraction to Chambliss, or what’s happened to his brother. When tragedy strikes, Jess is left in the care of a grandfather he doesn’t know, and bears his cross, while others bend in prayer to a false prophet.

Attention grabbing from the onset, “A Land” picks up speed as it careens to a heart-stopping climax. The only problem with finishing this captivating thriller is waiting for the next offering from Cash. It will be hard for him to top this one, but I’m banking on it.

Guest review by Dawn Kitchell of The Missourian.

Ree Drummond picked an apt title when she dubbed herself “The Pioneer Woman.” Not just because of where she lives, but because of how hard she works — think prairie ancestor, with a keyboard. 

The mother of four home-schools her children on her family’s ranch in rural Pawhuska, Okla., blogs daily, sharing recipes, photos and her wit with millions of online readers, and has published four books in the six years since she created her website, ThePioneerWoman.com. In her spare time, she’s starring in a new cooking show on the Food Network.

I’ve been following Drummond for several years. I feel a kindred spirit because of my experience moving to rural Oklahoma at the start of my marriage after a life in metro suburbia. I like her no-frills recipes and appreciate her step-by-step photography.

Drummond’s second, and latest cookbook, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier,” features 304 pages with more than 100 recipes from breakfast to dinner, dessert for entertaining and even a few recipes and guidance on canning. The book reads like a magazine, with more than 1,000 photos of her cooking process and the Drummond family’s everyday lives.

Things have changed since Drummond’s first cookbook, “The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From an Accidental Country Girl,” arrived in our kitchen a few years ago. I cooked my way through the book, preparing nearly every recipe for my happy family. The simplicity of the recipes, and the photographic tutorials, inspired my husband.  “The Pioneer Man,” as we now affectionately refer to him, claimed this new cookbook for his own, taking to it like a textbook with a pad of page flags. The man who had never followed a recipe in his life is now preparing meals “like Ree does it” and seeks out many of the kitchen gadgets he sees in her photos.

The description on the cover, “simple, scrumptious and step-by-step,” sums up the cookbook’s appeal. You won’t find nutrition facts with the recipes — and that’s probably a good thing because this isn’t a low-fat, low-calorie collection. Just good country cooking, kid-friendly for the most part, made with common ingredients and common sense.

“Wild” is an adventure-survival story, the true tale of author Cheryl Strayed’s three-month solo hike along more than 1,100 grueling miles of the Pacific Coast Trail in California and Oregon.

Inexperienced, in ill-fitting boots and bearing a backpack guaranteed to buckle the hind legs of a sturdy mule, Strayed endures penetrating heat, bitter cold, snow, bears, snakes, you name it, on her quest to walk the PCT, a trail that extends along the Pacific Ocean and over mountain ranges. Her tenacity and drive make for an engaging read.

But “Wild” is so much more than the story of a woman’s courageous journey. It’s also a tale about coming to grips with the meaning of life following the mind-numbing death of a parent when you’re little more than a child yourself.

The beginning chapters are incredibly sad and moving as Strayed faces losing her mother to cancer in mere months — a quick, painful death that throws Strayed into a tailspin. The author’s connection to her mother is paramount because her father deserted the family when Strayed was just a girl. She believes that may be one of the reasons she’s thrown so far off course when her mother dies, could be why she seeks solace in one-night stands, “a woman with a hole in her heart,” involved in a series of brief encounters that end her marriage.

Her mother had been the glue that kept her siblings and stepfather together. With her demise, Strayed’s family of origin drifts apart. Searching for answers, Strayed becomes involved with a loser boyfriend and needles loaded with heroin, that provide temporary relief from her emotional pain, until she comes down off the drug.

Strayed knows she must make a change and plans a trip on the PCT, but it’s not an easy hike by any means. Physical pain is constant, thirst, hunger and an ever-present lack of money, not even enough to buy a Snapple, her drink of choice.

It’s a thrill to accompany Strayed on her quest —amazing to experience her growth, to see what changes ensue as she exposes herself to the elements, endures isolation, and pushes herself to the limit.

Strayed’s journey into the wild is a wild wonder-filled-ride.

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