Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Title: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake: A Novel
Author: Jenny Wingfield

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1950s / Southern U.S. / Families / Small Towns)
Publisher/Publication Date: Random House (7/12/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: Yes -- I read this one morning on a day off, when I meant to browse it before getting coffee.
One-sentence summary: A year in a small Arkansas town brings troubles and triumphs to the Moses family.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it absolutely captures the feel of the novel, although guiltily I must admit I rather like the cover on my review copy.

I'm reminded of...:  Ellen Feldman, Rumer Godden, Flannery O'Connor

First line: John Moses couldn't have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime.

Did... I snortle at the children's names?: YES. Noble Lake, Swan Lake, and Bienville Lake. OUCH!

Did... I almost stop reading once or twice because of the abuse of children and animals?: YES. So warning to the squeamish, this book tackles some serious darkness but in the end, there's enough hope to make what was endured, well, endurable.

Did... I wipe away a tear at the end?: YES.  Another book that left me satisfied, sad and happy, at the close.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure -- this is another great book club pick. Lots of family drama to chew over, small town vibe, and questions about ethics.

Why did I get this book?: Every now and then, I like novels about ministers and their families, having briefly been a minister's wife.

Review: I've been having a great reading summer; book after book just steals my breath away. From the first line of this novel, I had a strong sense of what to expect -- small town drama, a quirky family, a girl growing into a young adult -- and I found all of that in Wingfield's solid debut.

The plot is simple enough: an ugly town secret becomes too much to ignore, and the Moses family -- unwilling to lie -- won't pretend they don't know. Like a storm coming across the prairie, you can see the ugly a mile away, and it's the knowing that Something Terrible Could Happen which makes this novel deliciously tense and stressful.

There's a large cast to follow -- the entire Moses family, neighbors, other townies -- but Wingfield makes it easy enough to keep track of who is doing what. What I'm undecided about is who the novel was about. At first, I thought this was a story about Swan Lake, the 9 year old daughter of Rev. Samuel Lake but I found her to be a catalyst for much of the action, rather than the focus of it; so then I thought, perhaps, it was Samuel Lake, the titular character. A Methodist preacher so oriented toward social justice and equality, he's fired from his church and not offered a new one. But he, too, sort of floats in the background, reactive and pensive in equal part. Maybe it's a novel about Calla Moses, matriarch to the Moses family, witness to violence and love in extremes; or her son, Toy, a war vet struggling with loving too much and not getting loved enough.  

In the end, that's perhaps my only complaint: despite the size of the novel, we don't get to really 'know' anyone in the Moses family.  There are flashes of insight as the POV moves from one character to another, and it's enough to move the story, but I fell in love with almost all the characters, and I wouldn't have minded a little more.  The story tackles some heavy topics and going deeper would have made this novel especially powerful, I think.  Still, a great debut and a wonderful novel for anyone who enjoys Southern fic, family stories, or examinations of small town life.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Homecoming of Samuel Lake to one reader -- just comment with an email to be entered. Open to US/CA readers, closes 8/26.


  1. This sounds really good, even if it was hard to determine who the book was about and it the author only scratched the surface of the characters.

  2. I have heard great things about this book. The fact that you just meant to get a quick look over coffee and couldn't put it down excites me!

  3. @Anna: It was SO good, despite not going as deep as I would have liked. I just wanted more. MOOORE! ;)

    @Lola: It really was astounding -- I couldn't stop thinking about it when I wasn't reading!

  4. And another book that you could not put down :) You are on a roll lately

  5. This sounds really good! thanks!


  6. I am on the fence about this one. While the story does sound interesting, the abuse of animals and children might just get to me too much and make me uncomfortable. I am glad that although it had some heavy issues you were able to enjoy it and were so enthralled with it. Great review!

  7. @Blodeuedd: It's true -- I've really lucked out. Even the last two I've read that I've been kind of cranky about (reviews to come), ended up being good ultimately.

    @Heather: I feel ya -- but I have to say, I trusted Wingfield in that I knew what was happening would be resolved -- it wasn't, like, Wally Lamb where misery felt sort of there just for misery's sake. I was uncomfortable, certainly, but the author really resolved everything in a way I could deal with.

  8. It would bother me to end the book and still not know that much about the Moses family. BUT, so many are raving about this book. Perhaps it's a non-issue for most.

  9. @Ti: We learn some -- but I just wanted more. I would recommend you give it a try because it was quite captivating!

  10. Sounds amazing, please enter me.

    littleone AT shaw DoT ca

  11. I think hard topics and things that might make you feel squeamish make up some of the best books. It is how the hard things are handled that make the story good or bad. I think I would love this book!

  12. Oddly, I don't read many books that take place in the South. I don't think I can remember one that takes place in Arkansas. This one sounds great. So please enter me in the giveaway. And thanks!

  13. Oh I would love to win this book! I love Southern fiction! I guess it is because I am Southern to the core. Probably really weird, but I am drawn to British and Southern literature more than any other.

  14. No need to enter me, but I do want to hear the story of you as a minister's wife! My father is a minister, and I am often fascinated by their tales too.

  15. @Carrie: Despite being pretty non-religious, I do love ministers and those who decide to get into ministry. When I met my wife, she was in div school and so I was a seminarian's girlfriend then a minister's wife -- until she decided ministry wasn't her thing. She's now a nanny. Being a nanny's wife is even weird than being a minister's wife!

  16. I love the storyline of this book and would love to read it.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  17. I'm interested in reading this, thanks for the warning...and for the giveaway :)
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  18. Your reviews always make me so interested in all the books you read, but this book is not my type of thing. There's something about it that I just don't find interesting, and its not because I'm squeamish...

    Thanks for the review, no need to enter me in the giveaway.

  19. I think I liked the cover of your review copy better, too, but the book sounds very interesting, so I would love to be entered to win a copy:)
    jwitt33 at live dot com

  20. I LOVE historical fiction!

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  21. I would love to win this book, it already is on my TBR list. Your review was excellent.

  22. Sounds great :) I'd love to read it.


  23. Wow sounds great! I love stories in small towns every now and then (more like I never get to them because I think I won't be interested but then end up loving them, LOL).

    Please enter me:

  24. You had me ready to read this book with the three authors you said it reminded you of since I've adored their books. I'm definitely having some difficulties with the children and animal abuse and I'm not always happy when an author doesn't let the reader get to know any of the characters but this book sounds worth reading!

    Thank you for another intriguing and enjoyable review!

    Please enter me in your giveaway!

  25. I have heard good things about this book. I really want to add it to my to read list!
    Please enter me, thanks.


  26. Been hearing lots of good things about this one! Thanks for the giveaway!

    cytljjb @ gmail com

  27. I love books like this! Sounds intriguing!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    Amy // amyismyfriend at aol dot com

  28. I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book. I'm definitely interested!

  29. I'm definitely interested in this one... thanks for the giveaway!

    jmartinez0415 [at] gmail [dot] com

  30. Please enter me in the draw!

    My email address is darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  31. This is a book that I really want to read - I've been hearing such amazing things about it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  32. I've been eyeing this book for a bit now. The abuse aspect troubles me, but I like authenticity in my literature. Shoot...I read mysteries with serial killers!

  33. This looks intriguing. I'm not sure I'll love it, but it looks like a good read.

    Thanks for the giveaway. I'd love to be entered!

    tardis5445 AT gmail DOT com

  34. Thank you for the giveaway

    chocolateandcroissants at yaho o . com