Review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Review: The Homecoming of Samuel LakeThe Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Published by Random House on July 10, 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Won
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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.

With characters who spring to life as vividly as if they were members of one’s own family, and with the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield emerges as one of the most vital, engaging storytellers writing today. In The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she has created a memorable and lasting work of fiction.

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

For the most part, I’m a fairly eclectic Reader of Fictions. I pretty much love at least some examples of most types of fiction. Still, I definitely have ones that I try to avoid as much as possible, and that I retain a bit of a prejudice towards. I’m not particularly proud of that, but that’s the truth. I entered a blind giveaway hosted by Random House for one of their big summer titles. I won. Imagine my disappointment/trepidation when the book arrived (two copies, even). I open up the package and find The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. When I look it up on Goodreads, I see that this book resides, at least according to the community on Goodreads, in two of my most feared genres: Christian fiction and southern fiction.

Even coming from this seriously skeptical place, I really enjoyed The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. I had been debating just giving it away, but I knew within the first page that I would definitely be reading the whole book. Judging off of genre can be a very dangerous habit, because it’s such a narrow designation. Some books are completely their genre, but others, like this one, do have those elements, but are so much more.

Though there is a lot about faith in The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, and I think Christian readers would perhaps enjoy it, I think calling it Christian fiction is somewhat unfair, or, perhaps, it is simply different than what I have thus far encountered. Not all of the characters in THoSL are Christian, both good and bad people. The title character is a preacher, but the book wasn’t about him so much as the whole Moses/Lake clan.

Although the book definitely has a summer feel to it, perhaps because there’s never much discussion of schooling or of traditional employment, THoSL tackles dark subject matter, primarily that of spousal and child abuse, although rape, murder and infidelity are also big themes. The abuser, Ras Ballenger, is one of the most purely evil characters I have encountered in fiction. He abuses his wife, his son, and the horses he trains for other people. I cannot overstate how entirely awful he was. What a rat bastard.

The characters and their relationships in the book are just wonderful. The whole Moses house seriously just brimmed with life. I adored all of the games the kids played out in the field, how seriously they were taken and how true to life they were. The various issues encountered in the different marriages also struck me as so true to life. It was also so incredibly beautiful how the Moses family came together in crisis situations, despite disagreements.

My last main point that I must make about THoSL is that the writing is utterly lovely. Wingfield manages to write in a style that has a bit of a southern flair WITHOUT resorting to dialect. Part (perhaps up to 99%) of my distaste for southern fiction is that I hate books written in dialect, and so many are. The characters do speak in dialect, some of them, but that’s the extent of it. That totally worked for me.

So, here’s what I have to say to you, give this book a chance if you like family pieces full of sassy children and familial love, even if, like me, it doesn’t sound like the sort of book you’d ordinarily pick up. If you pass this one by because of genre concerns, you will be missing out.

Favorite Quote:

“Willadee asked him if he thought maybe it should say HAPPY EVER AFTER, but Samuel said no, he thought happiness was like any other miracle. The more you talked about it, the less people believed it was real. It was like Swan said, some things, everybody just had to find out about for themselves.”

8 responses to “Review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake”

  1. I have to say, I have the same reservation when it comes to Christian fiction. But I received this book in the same giveaway and was pretty stoked to discover that the author was a writer on one of my favorite Louisiana movies — Man in the Moon. I haven’t read this one yet but I am definitely giving it a chance. It’s nice to see someone with the same sort of taste is giving it a good review 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Oh cool! That’s awesome that she was the writer for one of your favorite films. I really loved her writing style. I thought it was both very beautiful and very natural. It didn’t feel forced at all.

      You should definitely check it out!

  2. fakesteph says:

    I love when you give a book a chance that you KNOW you will hate and then in completely blows you away. I’m really excited to check this out now. 🙂

  3. Adriane says:

    You’ve intrigued me! 🙂 Christian and southern lit??? 🙂

    • Christina says:

      Right. Very much not my thing, but I really liked the book.

      The Christian values were there but they definitely weren’t in your face, which I think makes this a good read for people of most any belief system.

  4. Anita Yancey says:

    I enjoyed your review on this book. It sounds like a book I would be interested in, because I love southern fiction. Thanks for having this giveaway.

  5. Yvonne says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading this.

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