This Dark Road to Mercy depicts the story of Easter and Ruby Quillby, two orphan girls whose step-father has decided he wants them back. Told from three different points of view, New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash unites the narrative voices of both children and adults, and the story moves effortlessly through shades of light and dark. Indeed, the book lives up to its title.
It is impossible to deny that Cash is a natural storyteller. Strewn with gorgeous imagery throughout, he accentuates the most delicate details in a way that would make Harper Lee proud. My favourite line was probably:
‘a little smear of peanut butter was on her cheek’.
There is such warmth in Cash’s fluid prose that makes the novel impossible to resist, and I was immediately drawn to Easter’s character.
It wasn’t until the first plural mention of ‘sisters’ that I realised Easter was a girl. There was such strength in her character, such a masculine toughness in her determination to look after her sister that is reminiscent of a Katniss Everdeen-type figure. This is unexpected from a twelve year old female protagonist, and makes Cash’s writing all the more evocative. With both parents out of the picture, Easter steps up to play the roles of mother, father and sister to younger Ruby.
Cash is a master of the slow, gradual revelation. Little by little, we learn that these two girls are not living comfortably, and this is what makes their story all the more shocking. There is no furniture in the house. They don’t have a phone. They sleep on a mattress on the floor every night without complaint. By drawing attention to the smaller details, Cash reminds us of all of the little luxuries in life that we take for granted every single day. We can’t ignore the fact that Easter and Ruby are young children, and their situation in itself is utterly heartbreaking. All too often we turn a blind eye to poverty and homelessness because it is easier to do so than to accept the hard-hitting, uncomfortable truth, but Cash chooses to recognise this:
‘A few people slept on picnic tables under the shelters. They’d been out there all night because they didn’t have no place else to go.’
Acknowledging this through an innocent child’s eyes urges the reader to take notice of the world around them, of the things we all too often miss, or choose not to see. In particular, it was Easter’s refusal to succumb to her emotions in spite of this poverty and the recent loss of her mother that had me blubbing by the end of the first chapter.
The second narrator, Pruitt, invites a darker strand to be woven into the narrative. I started off feeling oddly drawn to his shady (if you’ll excuse the pun) character, as it is made clear that his dark past will inevitably shape his, and the girls’ futures. He embarks on a man-hunt, intending to kill Wade Chesterfield, who happens to be Easter and Ruby’s step-father. We are guided into the seedy world of crime, and it is by no means a comfortable place to be. Tensions are high, and the novel gains pace from the moment Pruitt steps into the picture.
It must be said that at times I found the sudden switches in narrator tricky to follow, and often I had to return to previous chapters to remind myself of the events that had gone before from that person’s point of view. Brady Weller’s narrative and intentions were much more confusing to keep track of, and I felt that I never truly understood his character. This did not, however, make the story any less enjoyable. In fact, it raised more questions about the nature of his character, and added an extra layer of depth to the novel.
Without a doubt, Wade Chesterfield was the most intriguing character of all. He was also my favourite. Despite his constant presence, Cash denies Wade a narrative voice. In a way, this serves to make him all the more ambiguous, as we never gain the satisfaction of knowing what his true intentions were. Every time I believed that I had finally worked him out, Wade did something to challenge this. His character is complicated and constantly defies expectations; the reader is kept on the fence about him throughout. There is something absolutely heart-warming about his desperate acts to get his girls back, in spite of all the wrongs he has done in his life. Do we ever quite forgive him for abandoning them in the first place? Readers will differ in their opinions, but I must admit that in the end I was rooting for Wade.
Stunningly interwoven, Cash has created a modern masterpiece. This Dark Road to Mercy explores life, law and love; but primarily, it is a story about family. I could not put this book down. If you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, I urge you to discover the magic of Wiley Cash.