The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

by Jenny Wingfield

Dera Williams (08/13/13): Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at 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. 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 just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

With the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield has created an enduring work of fiction.

What did reviewers say about this book?

“Raw, dark, and powerful . . . Southern Gothic at its best. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake puts one in mind of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor.”—Fannie Flagg

Wingfield’s narrative style – using an observant, omniscient point of view – allows the reader to explore a number of dark topics: manipulation, abuse, dishonesty, infidelity, animal cruelty. They are, however, tempered with countless laugh-out-loud moments, including (among others) the name of the grandfather’s bar, “Moses Never Closes.” And of course, there is hope and love peppered throughout this story that follows the lives of four incredible, children, their parents, and aunts/uncles. And no story would be a good story without a villain; Wingfield delivers just that, a character named Ras, who is so despicable and abhorrent that he still gives me the shivers. (Warning: not an easy read for some). Debut novelist Jenny Wingfield conjures a cast of characters fresh and imaginative – all set against the lush backdrop of a rural Arkansas farming landscape in the ‘50s. – Melissa Crytzer Fry- Good Reads Reviewer

 (Anyone who loves Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird will delight in Swan, the Lake's 11-year-old daughter who wears boys clothes and isn't shy about asking a question or two.) Throw in an in-law who still carries a torch for the pastor, a mysterious uncle with quite the past, and a handful of gossiping neighbors and you have the makings of a classic tale of farm family life, warts and all. But it's Wingfield's ability to set the stage, to transport her readers back to rural Arkansas of the 1950s that takes this novel to another level. Reader Reviews - From Goodreads

 “[This novel] touches on many genres—family life, Christian fiction, coming-of-age, and suspense. . . . Readers will love it.”—Library Journal (starred review)

My Thoughts:

As I said, I was intrigued by the southern setting and book buzzes on Amazon.com. I didn’t look up any reviews until after I finished the book. I guess every southern novel with an adolescent girl, rural setting, back in time, and a strong father figure will be compared to To Kill a Mockingbird but while there were some basic similarities, it was a far different novel; darker, more intrusive and dug more into the human spirit. True confession. When I read Southern novels, I look for racial overtones in some manner. After all, how can you have a southern novel and race doesn’t play into it? Blacks were not a factor in this book almost exclusively, except as a mention in after thought; the uncle saved a Negro in the war and the preacher father was said to have visited a black church a time or two. Initially, when I realized it was going to be “colorless, I was a bit disappointed. But just for a moment. I was drawn into the humanity of the family; there day-to-day living, their mores and values, their quest for peace and happiness. Just being plain folks and that in itself was an aha moment to me. That people are just people who are trying to live, work and raise their families and just survive and yes, white southerners were people too who lived, breathed and loved. So you have Samuel Lake who marries into the Moses Family in rural Columbia County. They are a formidable bunch and known as being honest—to a fault. Every year they have a family reunion at the Moses homestead, where they have a store and a saloon. Samuel is a Methodist minister who finds out at the annual conference that he is now without a church. (How well I am familiar with this scenario having grown up in the Methodist Church, several generations Methodist). Now Sam has to swallow his pride and live on his in-laws land because he doesn’t have a place to house his family of a wife, two sons and his daughter, Swan Lake. Add to this the sudden death of the patriarch of the Moses, a mother-in-law in grief, a brother-in-law who is known as a killer and that brother-in-law’s wife, who was a former girlfriend of Sam’s. Not to mention the children in the story who are both innocent and coming into themselves, especially Swan who has learned to assert herself as the only girl. There are secondary characters and issues of vulnerability, reestablishing and reaffirming one’s identity, trickery and deceit, and tragedy. This was just a good old-fashioned book that was satisfying in that it kept my interest, was both familiar and foreign. I loved the country sayings and mannerisms. “Crazy as a Bessie bug.” “Hit it a lick or two.” These are some of the phrases I grew up with when visiting Arkansas. Memories of canning fruits and vegetable in the summer., dinner called supper, a southern town’s own brand of justice. The family saloon reminded me of the juke joint my uncles used to go to. I give this book a 4-4.5 rating.
Rating:****+

Judy Stanton (07/30/13): Jenny Wingfield writes a good Southern coming of age tale about a preacher and his young family that is full of well developed characters and interesting storylines that keep the reader coming back for more. She delves into relationships, some more realistically than others. I especially liked how quiet Uncle Toy works his way into the hearts of the Lake children. Skeptic that I am, I have a hard time attributing miracle status to a destructive tornado that goes around a particular house or a bell that the main character, Swan, uses to get her father's attention when she is in danger. I think Wingfield is a good story teller. I thought her character's lingo was well done. I just didn't feel that the people were real; maybe I just couldn't relate to their lives..
Rating:***

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