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Three Cheers for “Homecoming”!

October 10, 2011

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Random House • $25 • ISBN 9780385344081
July, 2011

Best Book I have read so far this year! Even for this slow reader, that’s still #1 among 40+ other books!

Summary (provided by Publisher):  Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.

Why I loved it: One word: Characters! I fell in the love with the Moses and Lake families. This is not to say that any of the characters were perfect—they all had their own little quirks—but of course, that’s what made them round, human and sympathetic.

The Setting:  A one hundred acre farm in 1950’s Arkansas. From a woman who spent practically every summer in the 1960’s in Mobile, Alabama, this novel sang with authenticity—and charmed with shared memories. I couldn’t help but compare “Moses Honesty’ with what my family calls an “Onie Lie” (not a lie, technically, but not the whole truth, either…) However, even readers my folks would’ve called “Yankees” will relate to this book’s portrayal of a simpler life and times. Of course, there were many elements that still ring true today: a former bread-winner, now unemployed; the “other woman” out to get your guy—even if that guy has no intention of straying; and frustratingly willful children. I guess you could say these are timeless occurrences…

It reminded me of: East of Eden for the same strong theme of “Good and Evil”; To Kill a Mockingbird for the decidedly adult story (partly) told from an intelligent and precocious child’s point of view (we trade Scout for Swan); Water for Elephants for its portrayal of brutal spousal and animal abuse; Secret Life of Bees for its depiction of a parentless child who climbs up into your lap and soon has a hold of your whole heart  (again we trade Lily for Blade); The Help for its ability to both celebrate and expose Southern community connections—and disconnects; and finally, South of Broad for its easy Southern storytelling style with a plethora of compelling characters.

Discussable Themes: Book clubs will have a field day discussing themes of Family; Community; Southern Living; Good and Evil; Suicide; Spousal and Child Abuse; Animal Cruelty; Loyalty, Trust and Honesty; Alignment of Beliefs vs. Behavior;  Faith, Redemption and Miracles; and lots of Paradox. Whew—better bring lots of Chardonnay on the night you discuss this novel—y’all are gonna be there for a long time!

Keeping the Faith:  I’ve read some reviews in which they label this book as “Christian Fiction.” Although it is a book about Faith, I believe that would be like calling the Harry Potter series “books for Wiccans,” or saying that any book about the holocaust is one that “only those of the Jewish faith would be interested in.” Please don’t allow labels to keep you from reading this book. People of all faiths will enjoy the novel!

Discussion Questions Available: You can find seven pre-crafted questions on the Random House website. But your own questions written around the themes listed above are probably your best bet for a meaty discussion!

I hope you enjoy Jenny Wingfield’s debut novel as much as I did. “Homecoming” is a real winner!



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