Skip to Main Content

Book Club Kits: This Dark Road to Mercy

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

Cover Image

Check Availability

To request this kit, click link above.

Alamance County Public Libraries

Alamance County Public Libraries provide free and open access to lifelong learning, resources for everyday living, and reading for pleasure in a welcoming environment.  Our collections, services and programs enhance the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. Contact the Library webmaster.

Alamance County Public Libraries operates as a Department of Alamance County Government.  Visit the Alamance County Website at

Book Summary

The critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller A Land More Kind Than Home—hailed as "a powerfully moving debut that reads as if Cormac McCarthy decided to rewrite Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird" (Richmond Times Dispatch)—returns with a resonant novel of love and atonement, blood and vengeance, set in western North Carolina, involving two young sisters, a wayward father, and an enemy determined to see him pay for his sins.

After their mother's unexpected death, twelve-year-old Easter and her six-year-old sister Ruby are adjusting to life in foster care when their errant father, Wade, suddenly appears. Since Wade signed away his legal rights, the only way he can get his daughters back is to steal them away in the night.

Brady Weller, the girls' court-appointed guardian, begins looking for Wade, and he quickly turns up unsettling information linking Wade to a recent armored car heist, one with a whopping $14.5 million missing. But Brady Weller isn't the only one hunting the desperate father. Robert Pruitt, a shady and mercurial man nursing a years-old vendetta, is also determined to find Wade and claim his due.

Narrated by a trio of alternating voices, This Dark Road to Mercy is a story about the indelible power of family and the primal desire to outrun a past that refuses to let go.

Discussion Questions

1.      In This Dark Road to Mercy, people are not always what they seem, and assumptions are sometimes proven wrong. Easter, for example, may be a kid, but she's incredibly smart and mature for her age as evidenced from the very first page of the novel. What assumptions does Easter make about Wade, based on her mother's stories and her fragmented memories? Do you think she was right about him? Why or why not? Who else has suffered because of assumptions made about them by others?

2.      Wade makes two remarks to Easter regarding their skin color (white) versus that of their schoolmates (black) during their first meeting in the book. Later on, Wade unthinkingly buys the girls an inflatable raft decorated with the Confederate flag. Discuss the subtle themes of race, class, and other social factors running through this novel. How important to the story is it that the main characters are underprivileged or otherwise struggling financially? How might the story have been different if the characters were middle class, or even wealthy?

3.      When Easter discovers her mother unconscious and on drugs, she decides not to call 911, but to let her mother sleep it off. Why? Identify other moments in the novel where Easter decides to do something other than the more obvious or expected thing. What effect does this have on your opinion of her? 4. Marcus accuses Easter of not wanting anyone to know about their relationship. He seems to be hinting that it's because he is black and she is white. Do you think he's right? Why or why not? Why else might Easter have wanted to keep her feelings about Marcus private?

4.      Though we don't yet know his motivations, we are introduced to Wade when he first contacts Easter on the schoolyard after school one day. Later she overhears him talking to Miss Crawford about trying to get the girls back. He claims he was tricked into signing away his parental rights and says, "I know how the law works, and I know it never works for people like me." What does he mean by this? Do you feel sympathetic toward Wade? Use examples from the novel to illustrate your opinion.

5.      Wade and the girls are on the run for most of the novel. Identify what, and whom, they are running from and discuss how other characters are similarly "on the run," either literally or metaphorically.

6.      Easter often seems fearless. When Pruitt first approaches her on the edge of the schoolyard, she instinctively denies her name and pretends not to know Wade at the same time that she understands instinctively that Pruitt is trying to scare her. Describe how she balances some fears, such as she feels walking away from Pruitt, against other things she might fear. What frightens Easter the most?

7.      On page 2, Easter describes Ruby as looking just like their mother, while she (Easter) looks like Wade. How does Easter feel about this? Why does it mean so much to her when she and Wade dye their hair and, with their suntans, "finally looked like a family" (p. 125)? What, in the end, finally makes Easter feel comfortable with her natural coloring?

8.      Wade tells Easter, "I wanted to be a good dad, but I screwed that up, too." (P. 136) Brady Weller could just as easily have delivered this line. Why do you think the author chose to make Brady one of the narrative voices in this novel? Identify the parallels between him and Wade and between each man and their children.

9.      A running thread through the novel is the competition between baseball greats Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, each of whom are trying to break the homerun record set by Roger Maris in 1961. How does this competition relate to the main plot of the novel? Why do you think Easter and Ruby are such fans of Sosa's? Discuss the significance of the baseball game in St. Louis where the story comes to a climax.

10.  As Brady zeroes in on Wade's and the Quillby girls' location, he asks his daughter Jessica, "Would you let them stay with their dad, or would you follow the law and make sure they get back where they're supposed to be?" (p. 146). Jessica answers, "I don't know…I'm not a dad." Do you think she's suggesting that Brady think like a father and not like a cop or guardian? Discuss how these two philosophical positions might differ with regard to the situations presented in the novel.

11.  When does Easter first begin to think that maybe Wade isn't such a bad person after all? Do you think people can really change? Did Wade? If so, why do you think he abandons the girls at the stadium? Is it more for their sake, or his own?

12.   Over dinner, Jessica points out to Brady that no one ever asks kids what they want and what would make them happy. What do you think about this observation? Is there wisdom in asking young children what they want when it comes to guardianship? Is there an inherent danger in relying on their opinion? Do you think Brady ultimately made the right choice in trying to trap Wade? What would you have done? Do you think the girls are happy in the end?

Interview with Wiley Cash

Tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a writer and what is your life like in West Virginia?

I don’t really know how long I’ve been a writer. I suppose I’ve been writing fiction since I was eighteen years old or so. My first story was published when I was nineteen. I guess that made me a writer then, but I had a decade of rejections and didn’t have another story published for ten years, so I guess I took a break from being a “writer” during that time!

My wife and I are both from North Carolina, but we moved to West Virginia where I had a job teaching literature and writing at a small liberal arts college. A few years ago I resigned to spend more time writing, and in September 2013 we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where my wife is from and where we met in 2005.

Wilmington is a great city for a writer. The beach is close by, there’s a wonderful local arts scene, and the city is crawling with professional writers.

In a nutshell, what is This Dark Road to Mercy about?

It’s about a washed-up minor league baseball player who kidnaps his two daughters from a foster home and tries to be a father to them.

Where did your inspiration for the book come from?

The inspiration for this novel came from several sources. One source is a story my wife told me: when she was a child she and her father used to walk to the baseball field near their home and throw ball during the summer. I thought it was a beautiful image: a father and his daughter on a ball field at dusk in the summer. But I wanted to complicate things, so I imagined a little girl out on the field with her friends, looking up to see her long-lost father watching her from the stands. That image became the opening scene of This Dark Road to Mercy.

I also recalled my memories of two young sisters who went to church with me when I was a child. They were raised by a foster family, and they were eventually murdered by two older guys they were dating. They were very sweet girls, and they were only fifteen and twelve when they were murdered. The weight of that tragedy has stayed with me. The two sisters in my novel aren’t in that kind of danger, but they don’t know that.

Innocence and the sibling bond are at the heart of the book, and also in your debut novel, A Land More Kind than Home. The innocence of childhood is clearly a subject that motivates you. Why is this?

There are several things that appeal to me when writing about children. The first thing is the honesty of their perceptions and the honesty with which they share those perceptions. Kids make wonderful narrators because very little is filtered out. Adults are more given to protecting their sense of character, but children aren’t quite so self-aware. They tell it like it is.

Another thing that appeals to me is that writing about children allows me to return to my own childhood and uncover the wealth of experiences, dreams, and fears I may have forgotten about. Childhood, both good and bad, is an incredible well from which writers can draw. It’s amazing what we’ve forgotten, but it’s even more amazing when we realize what we can remember.

There are good guys and bad guys in life. Wade is fundamentally a good guy who “messed up”, and by the middle of the book we are rooting for him. Do you believe in second chances?

Absolutely. I always root for the underdog, especially if that underdog has a checkered past and is trying to make amends like Wade is. Americans especially love giving second chances. Whether it’s a politician or an athlete, we’re always hoping that folks will be willing and able to redeem themselves.

Easter’s slow but eventual forgiveness of her father’s absence and past behavior is an emotional journey to witness, especially when in Chapter 34 she prevents his arrest. Do you think it’s true what they say – children can see the good in a person?

I think so. I also think children understand the purity and immediacy of emotion in ways adults preclude themselves from understanding them. Easter loves her father, and eventually it grows to be an uncomplicated love, despite his past behavior. She does everything she can to protect and nurture that love. Adults love with caveats; children love with consistency and purity.

Your novel is set against a backdrop of professional baseball. Have you played the sport yourself? Can you explain for a British readership what it was that attracted you to it as the setting for your story?

Like a lot of boys growing up in America, I played a lot of baseball, and I still follow the professional game. It’s hard to say what makes Americans love baseball. It’s referred to as “the boy’s game” and “America’s pastime,” and I think there’s a sense of innocence and wander attached to it. I think the game looms large in the American imagination. Aside from presidents, our earliest national heroes were baseball players.

What other themes were you interested in addressing in the novel?

I’m really interested in the Renaissance idea of “seeming, not being,” which is ironic because the state of North Carolina’s motto is “to be, rather than to seem.” I’m always interested in people who seem one way but end up being another person altogether. Wade seems like a total loser, but maybe he’s not. I played with this idea in A Land More Kind than Home as well.

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

I hope they’ll remember that you can’t choose your family, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love them and seek to understand them.

Who are your favorite authors, and which writers have most inspired your own writing?

My favorite writers are the North Carolina writers I grew up reading: Thomas Wolfe, Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton, Wilma Dykeman, Fred Chappell, and Ron Rash.

And finally, what’s next for Wiley Cash?

I’m currently at work on a novel about the role of women in an infamous cotton mill strike in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, in 1929.