This Dark Road to Mercy
230 pages (hardcover)
I live in Georgia. Before I moved here, I lived in Virginia. And, before that, I lived in Louisiana. My husband was born and raised in North Carolina. Neither of us has a Southern accent (or so we claim), but we know a good one when we hear one. We can tell if a Southerner is from Southeastern Virginia, New Orleans, or North Georgia based on his or her particular drawl.
And we can tell if someone is decidedly not a Southerner based on an atrocious fake accent. For example . . .
Frank Underwood is clearly not from Gaffney, South Carolina:
And Sookie and Tara are definitely not Louisiana girls:
And when Brits like the Governor and Rick play at Georgia accents, it’s just laughable:
Hearing Southern accents done this poorly makes me cringe and laugh. I have actually yelled at actors on television, “WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SAY ‘LIFE’?!?” Bad Southern accents are so distracting that they become the only things I can hear; I can’t concentrate on the show itself.
And that is exactly what this book is like. This Dark Road to Mercy is set in North Carolina. Two little girls, Easter and Ruby, are forced into the foster-care system after their mom dies of a drug overdose. One day, their deadbeat dad, whom they haven’t seen in years, shows up and convinces them to run away with him in the dead of night. He has come into some money unexpectedly and has newfound familial aspirations. The three take off . . . but the cops, the girls’ guardian ad litem, and a thug looking for his boss’s money are hot on their tails.
It’s a fast-paced book that has gotten good reviews—it was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month for January 2014. But I just couldn’t get into it. It’s a little too simple, and it’s incredibly predictable. But, sadly, neither of those issues is the book’s biggest problem.
The biggest problem is the dialect. The book is narrated in first person by three different people: Easter (one of the little girls), Brady (the girls’ guardian ad litem), and Pruitt (the thug). Everyone in the book is small-town, blue-collar North Carolinian. And it’s written by a native North Carolinian, so you’d think the voices would be authentic. Unfortunately, they’re not. They are inconsistent and forced. In fact, they’re so inauthentic that, like those TV shows, they became distracting. Here’s the first example I noticed (this is from page 17—the bad North Carolina voice reared its head early and often):
I can’t promise I quite remember it myself, but I do remember telling her that now wasn’t no time to be sad. I remember telling her that there’d be plenty of time for that later, that right now we had to be tough and figure out what we were going to do next to make sure we stayed together now that we didn’t have a mama or a daddy like most kids our age. I asked her if she wanted to go into Mom’s bedroom to see her one more time, and I could tell she thought about it awfully hard, but in the end she decided she didn’t want to, and I couldn’t blame her.
This example may not seem blatant to non-Southerners, but a couple things stick out glaringly to me:
- Anyone who would say “now wasn’t no time to be sad” would not say “she thought about it awfully hard.” She would say, “she thought about it awful hard.” And, for the record, she’d probably also say, “right now we had to be tough and figure out what we was gonna do next to make sure we stayed together . . . .”
- Anyone who would say “now that we didn’t have a mama or a daddy,” would not say, “I asked her if she wanted to go into Mom’s bedroom.” She would say, “I asked her if she wanted to go into Mama’s bedroom.” (As an aside, that should be spelled momma, but that’s just nit picking.)
The rest of the book is similarly inconsistent. There are a lot of double negatives but little else to distinguish the dialect or dialogue from a non-North Carolinian. That (and the use of the word “ain’t”) appears to be the one thing Wiley Cash sees as a North Carolina speaker’s trademark.
Obviously, this is a weird bone to pick, but, for me, the North Carolina voices were so glaringly inconsistent and bad that they kept me from being able to become engrossed in the book. It’s possible (maybe even likely) that a non-Southerner wouldn’t even notice this problem. But if you, like me, cringe when watching True Blood or House of Cards or The Walking Dead because of the inauthentic accents, then this is not the book for you.
This is a book that is written like a college kid’s final project in a creative writing seminar. It is forced and amateurish. The characters are stereotypical and lack complexity. The storyline is played out and silly. The conclusion is cheesy.
It seems like Cash wrote the book with movie options in mind (the cute little Southern kids, the kidnapping, a big scene in a crowded baseball stadium, some thugs in a bar, etc., etc., etc.), but he failed to make it unique or, well, particularly good.
This is the kind of book that makes you really appreciate good writing and good voices/dialect, like the narrator’s in The Good Lord Bird. When a dialect is done well, it enhances a book. When it’s done poorly, it ruins it.
Who should read it: Don’t nobody need to read this book, I don’t reckon.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Complete Persepolis (my book club’s March selection and the first graphic novel I have ever read)
- And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (the most recent novel by the author of A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner; an Amazon Best Book of the month for May 2013; a Paris Review Best of the Best for 2013)