Tuesday, December 7, 2010

158 - The Moonflower Vine; Jetta Carleton



















The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton (1913-1999) was first published in 1962 by Simon and Schuster. The Harper Perennial edition was released in 2009, ten years after the author's death.

The story begins in summer in the 1950's as the adult children in the Soames family are visiting their parents, Matthew and Callie on their rural Missouri farm. The story begins as Mary Jo, the youngest of the four girls, tells of the annual visit to see their parents, which is both a reunion, and a sense of duty. The parents are now up in years and need help around the farm. Much of what occurs during their visits seem to be focused on the blooming of the "moonflower vine".
"The vine stormed to life, and the blooms exploded---five, twelve, a torrent of them, tumbling their extravagant beauty into the evening air"........"The blooming of the moonflowers was a kind of miracle, and like all true miracles it had the power of healing".

Although on the onset, the Soames clan seems the idyllic, happy family, all is not as it appears to be. The father Matthew, a former teacher and principal, is a God-fearing religious man, emotionally cold and distant, and yet a man driven toward wrong, and faced with guilt. The mother Callie, is good woman with a big heart, submissive and lonely, and longing for the closeness she is often denied. Bit by bit, each of the family members: Mary Jo, Jessica, Mathy and Leonie recall events from an earlier time (early 1900's), where the good times and bad times, private secrets, passions and temptations, and even sorrows, of each family member is revealed.
What was fascinating about this character driven novel, is the way the human side of each person shines through. We meet individuals who give in to temptation, make unwise choices, and then must live with aftermath. We see how choices made by one person, affect the rest of the family. Sin, lust, guilt, and forgiveness are themes that surface on a regular basis in this novel. Considering this book was initially published nearly 50 years ago, it was a bold and daring piece.  I can imagine that more than a few eyebrows were raised as romantic love, sexuality, lust and desire were prominent throughout this novel.

What started out as a bit of a slow moving story, quickly picked up and became a novel that made me anxious to read on.  Unlike anything I've read in a long while, I did enjoy this book. Sadly, it was the one and only novel published by the author.

RATING - 4/5 stars 
(personal copy)

16 comments:

  1. I had heard of this book ages ago but never ever got a chance to read it. You make it sound so good I should try to find it now.

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  2. It sounds so good . I will have to put it on my ever growing list.

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  3. What an interesting back story to this novel. This book sounds great. I usually love character driven novels!

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  4. Oh, it is very sad that this was the only book. Sounds fascinating.

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  5. Sounds like a very interesting book! I am also sad that it was the only one written by this author.

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  6. Diane, the title of this book caught my attention because my Nana always grew moon vines. I would run down to her house when I got the phone call from her saying it was time! You can actually see a moon vine open, it shakes and slowly unfurls before your very eyes!! I know this book was about much more than that but I am definitely going to put this book on my to read list for 2011! Thanks for the review!

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  7. I think this book sounds so good. I put it on my wishlist a while back -I'm sure I saw it before on your blog. Great review.

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  8. Sounds pretty interesting. Wonder why it took them so long to publish it.

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  9. I like the sound of this one! Hadn't heard of it before so thank you for the review. It's going on my list.

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  10. I just had to return this one to the library unread-such a bummer! I am one of four girls, so I want to read this book for that reason alone.

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  11. This one does sound interesting. I've never heard of it until your review!

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  12. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I gave it to my mom for her birthday a year or two ago, even though I haven't read it. I felt a little strange giving a book I hadn't read, but it sounded like a such a lovely story.

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  13. So sad to hear that it is the only novel published by the author. There was an interesting discussion recently on The Zen Leaf's site about what is better -- to have a series of decent books published, or to have one fantastic book that cements you in the legacy of good authors. Sounds like this author is in the latter category, but what a shame that we only get to have one book from her.

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  14. Never heard of this book, but it sounds worth checking out.

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  15. I love character driven novels!

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  16. I love novels that explore the complexities of family relationships. This sounds like a good one.

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