Review of Wiley Cash’s “This Dark Road to Mercy”

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“This Dark Road to Mercy”

Wiley Cash

William Morrow, HarperCollins Publishers

January 2014

It’s not often you pick up a captivating read told mostly from the perspective of a child. Easter Quillby, Cash’s preteen protagonist, is intelligent and sweet. Despite her youth and naiveté, Easter is a compelling character who quickly gains the sympathy and understanding of the reader.

This incredibly moving novel shares the story of two sisters, Easter and Ruby who are orphaned by the death of their mother and by a father who signs away his parental rights. Left to the foster care system, they are trapped in a world that they don’t fully understand. They know they have grandparents up in Alaska, but they have no other family and they feel utterly alone. When their father, Wade Chesterfield, reenters their lives, it is easy to be whisked away from the foster home and into the backseat of his beat up car with the promise of a new family life. Easter is right to doubt her father’s sincerity. He is wanted for criminal theft and now kidnapping. Although his action are not thoroughly thought out and he is not making wise decisions for a man who wants to gain custody of his children, he does seem genuinely motivated to reunite his broken family once more. 

The story is told from three perspectives: twelve-year-old Easter Quillby, her guardian Brady Weller, and ex-baseball player turned thug Pruitt. Easter is the perfect narrator for the story. On the cusp of becoming a young woman, she looks at her world critically and seeks to understand her situation and the actions of those around her. She is a caring girl who displays strong mothering tendencies for her six-year-old sister while simultaneously struggles with the fear of her own childishness. She wants to appear brave, calm, and strong, just as an adult would. She repeats to Wade many times, “I am not afraid.” She moves between trusting this man who abandoned her family (the more childish side of her) and her wariness of her (the beginnings of her adult-like thinking). She is a strong character who drives the story and sucks the reader in.

Weller’s chapters provide a contrast to Easter’s. He begins to see her as the daughter that he’d lost custody of after he’d killed a boy in a DUI accident years previous. As an ex-cop, ex-husband, and nearly ex-father, he seeks to make amends with his daughter Jessica, but pours his guilt and his devotion for his daughter into the search for the Quillby girls. At first, I had little sympathy for Weller and I was annoyed by his chapters. But as Weller began to take control of his situation and began to take action to recover the missing girls, I began to admire his drive and his bravery. He redeems himself by making the right, although perhaps the foolish choices as a father figure. 

The chapters I could have lived without were Pruitt’s. I enjoyed these chapters for their aid in rounding out Wade’s character. Pruitt’s experiences and perspectives help the reader to understand Wade as a father and as a man full of regret and shame, but also fatherly love for his daughters. Pruitt’s thoughts and actions as described from his perspectives did not lend much to the overall plot of the story other than to give the reader an inside perspective on Wade and the criminals seeking to eliminate him. I feel as though the story would have been stronger without his perspective, but they did not detract from the overwhelming impact of the rest of the novel.

Other than Pruitt, I found the characters to be well-rounded and likeable. I understood their motivations and their actions. The setting was clearly defined and easy to follow. Cash’s narrative style is clear, concise, and smooth. There was not a moment of boredom and the plot never dragged. 

Emotionally moving and captivating, Cash’s “This Dark Road to Mercy” is a must read for 2014. Keep an eye out for this exciting tale!

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