First, the title. The quote above is probably definitive for source, but meaning—as with most things “Bible”—remains interpretive. Obviously, we're talking the physical demise from this mortal coil. But is “long home” merely the grave or coffin, or does it refer deeper to placement of the spirit past the “gates of Sheol” and into some holding cell awaiting Judgment? If the latter, the pervasive evil so feverishly attached to Hardin is gone from the physical Earth while its transporter and jayhawker—the corporeal Hardin—de-composes into dirt, but the representational Hardin of sociopathic attitudes and amoral decisions is still available and waiting for you in some discarnate Purgatory to “rest together in the dust” (Job 17:16).
Is it any wonder, then, that old man Oliver at the end of the novel, ruminates on “all that matters” to include only the tangible manifestations unaffected by man's perceptions of them. “With a spare and bitter comfort”(MacMurry & Beck, TPB, ISBN 1878448056, c.1999, p.257), he cites the sun, trees, birds, weather—things not in our jurisdiction. Because, once we leave this Earth for our “long home”, humanity again falls prey to accusation, judgment, reformation or reward by Supreme Beings. Thus, Oliver sweeps away Christian cosmology in this world and the next not by questioning intent but by refusing enrollment. As to the world of despair filled with men and gods of evil purposes: turn not to Hope or your Brother's Keeper, as these are false altars, but retreat into yourself knowing self-actualization is the inadequate but only source to fraternize “a cold and solitary peace”(p.256) upon this lonely orb in black, infinite space.
Secondly, the story. It starts out with a little “languorous foreboding”(p.2) in a prologue ten years from the action of the novel with a storm-induced, natural formation of an 8-by-10 shaft in the ground—seemingly bottomless—and a perfect depository for the vile affirmations of homicidal remains. It is referred to throughout the rest of this tale as the “abyss”. The other point to note at the beginning is the cold-blooded murder of the in-coming protagonist's father, which gives the reader a leg up concerning closure on young Nathan Winer's book-length, in-‘n'-out weavings of strength and wits against the evil known as the usurper and bootlegger Dallas Hardin. “No one wanted to be in his disfavor, it had come to seem that being in his disfavor was tantamount to being homeless”(p.45). This vulpine-faced insect or shark—take your pick—with his “gemlike core of malevolence beneath the sly grin”(p.46) is the inhumane, petty despot leeching the life of this small, backwoods community in rural Tennessee during the year 1943.
There's also a plot arc of love longed for, love digested and addicted to, love disappeared from. This is the persona of Amber Rose, barely into puberty and she's slapping back the perverse strangulations of Hardin with a tug-o'-war using Winer's pure and passionate gropings. She is the daughter of the woman Hardin's overwhelmed, and she is being groomed to give up the hymeneal blood for filthy lucre. Winer, with his Boy Scout-ish naïveté, would fall into certain death-by-Hardin for her. To flush out the atmosphere, there are sub-characters like Buttcut and Motormouth, two Dogpatch-type goofballs dumbing down, numbing around, and acting out with the antics of good times, but too poisoned with despair to arouse much laughter. And, at the plinth of the character roster stands William Tell Oliver, the rocking chair guru, the proverbial Granddaddy, the hillbilly sage that probably point-of-views the author and solidifies a base of decency to compare against Hardin's ruthless actions. The mainspring plot is pretty loose and common, but it gives enough ground to let these people find their way in and out of interesting situations.
Actually, The Long Home reads less like what you'd think a book would, and more like a condensed ViewScope containing flipped-by, 3-D scenes of some others' lives. Author Gay is a deft stylist, slinging phrases with colloquial precision and poetic savior-faire. Dark is “darkness multiplied by itself so that you would doubt the ability of light to defray it”(p.155). Life is “the way the ragged edges of one event dovetailed into another like the pieces of a puzzle, no single piece independent of the whole”(p.201). Wildness was when “he bought time by the second and paid for it by the year”(p.213). Where he really shines is in the natural landscape of human despondency:
Hardin, of course, is the fascination. Author Gay infuses enough commonality in him to sell the guileful smile and barely-bridled monomania. There are no dire deeds from enflamed passions. With the cold cunning of a jackal, Hardin is deleteriously rational, and bilking cash from society's sinners is his favorite calling. And, between acrimonious and charming, he can even be fatherly: “You got to get your own edge. Because by God if you don't there'll always be somebody there lying to you all your life then handin you a greasy quarter and telling you to buy some Santy Claus”(p.135). We have all met this man and most of us, hopefully, have been fortunate to avoid his consequences.
Reviewer's notes: Conclusion on Hardin debatable. He's a common thug with bigger-than-average cojones. Intellect only of a predator. But he does have the "abyss". What the hell does that mean, like symbolically, eh?