Robert Benchely’s “Law of Distinction” states: “There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.” Our Daily Bread explores the consequences of group attachment – the “us” versus “them” mentality that arises when a collective identity is stronger than that of the individual self. What moral ambiguities result when we view our neighbors as ‘The Others’, as ‘those people’? This is the conflict between the Erskine Clan, long-shunned by the people of Gideon, who live in secrecy and isolation on North Mountain, and whose bootlegging enterprises are expanding into methamphetamine production; and the God-fearing townspeople of nearby Gideon. For generations the clan’s children have suffered unspeakable acts of rape, child abuse, incest, and psychological torture. The intolerant, self-righteous Gideonites decline to intervene, believing their neighbors to be beyond salvation. “That’s the mountain,” they say. “What do you expect from those people?” Yet in both groups nearly everyone has a secret and nothing is as it seems.
Twenty-one-year old Albert Erskine dreams of a better life and explains to a new teenage friend from the town, Bobby Evans, the meaning of the “man’s code” on the mountain: “You keep your secrets to yourself and you keep your weaknesses a secret and your hurts a secret and your dreams you bury double deep.” Bobby’s eight-year-old sister, Ivy, suffers incessant bullying by her classmates. Her father, Tom Evans, a well-liked local bread delivery man, struggles to keep his troubled marriage together. As rumors and innuendo about the Evans family spread, Ivy seeks refuge in Dorothy Carlisle, an independent-minded widow who runs a local antique store. When Albert ventures down from the mountain and seizes on the Evans’ family crisis as an opportunity to strengthen his friendship with Ivy’s brother Bobby, it sets in motion a chain of events which can only result in unexpected and dire results.
The novel’s tone shifts from humorous to extremely dark because each chapter is told from the differing points of view of the memorable main characters. The writing is smooth and compelling as this complex psychological conflict between the “us” and “them” unfolds. Our Daily Bread is a raw, convincing allegory: the Erskine Clan does not exist solely on North Mountain.
Davis credits her inspiration for her novel to the horror she felt when she learned about the abuse suffered by the children of the Goler clan in Nova Scotia.