There are times when I pick a book up on a fluke just to be entertained and come away pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield is one such experience. I would describe it as contemporary Southern fiction. It is a little dark and a little humorous and occasionally both at the same time.
It centers around the Moses family and particularly a precocious eleven-year-old girl, Swan, and her brothers. Aside from the children, Homecoming has many of the characters that make a great contemporary Southern novel – a strong matriarch; a slightly slutty sister-in-law; a rotten to the core, back-woods redneck; a wispy, ethereal child; and a preacher whose sincerity would be endearing if he weren’t so naive. (Folks who know me know I’m a sucker for a good Southern preacher story.)
Samuel Lake (the preacher) loses his preaching job and has to move his family back to his wife’s homestead, to his mother-in-law’s home (strong matriarch). The children are delighted to have full-exploration-reign on the surrounding acres, but the slightly slutty sister-in-law is not pleased to have Lake’s wife and her husbands first love back around full-time. When a wispy, boy-child begins appearing, Swan is smitten by the mystery of a childhood that lacks the innocence and ease of her own. The boy’s father becomes smitten with his own evil curiosity, and what ensues, well, you just need to read it.
This is a story that is both coming-of-age and exploration of a complicated marriage. If that sounds like a lot, you’re right. If there is any weakness within, it is that Wingfield attempts to accomplish a great bit in her work. There are parts – like a tornado scene – that have so much unfulfilled potential, that the book as whole might be better off without them. However, as a whole, her story works. It works to make you feel love and empathy, fear and hate, compassion and heartbreak. And a book that can do all this is worth reading.
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is Jenny Wingfield’s first novel, though she has experience with screenwriting on projects like The Man In the Moon – which was one of my favorite movies as an early teen.
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