In Where the Light Fell, I reveal the details of my impoverished upbringing in the South and a secret that set me on a search to understand the truth of my family and the culture in which I was raised. It’s a kind of prequel to everything else I’ve written, the story of my widowed mother finding security and purpose in a strict fundamentalist faith that fought against everything: integration, Communism, the social changes of the 1960s, her wayward sons. By reading this previously untold story, you’ll understand why my books have so often centered on the themes of suffering and grace. In this, my most personal book, I examine the nature of love—how a mother’s love can get tested to the breaking point; how the love of a community can be turned against outsiders; how the love of God can be obscured by those who speak in God’s name; and how love yet manages to find us against all odds.
So many of the strands from my childhood—racial hostility, political division, culture wars—have resurfaced in modern form. Although you will recognize an origin story of sorts for today’s social and political divides, at its heart this is a book about the possibility of healing and the hope that nothing in a person’s life need go to waste.