Tuesday, November 1, 2011

REVIEW: The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton

The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton. Originally published 1962. Reissued 2009 by HarperPerennial. Literary Fiction.

The Moonflower Vine is another one of those rediscovered classics- a book that's been out of print for a while and brought back to our attention. Sometimes I think some of those books are undiscovered for a reason. But The Moonflower Vine is one that deserves our attention.

Author Jetta Carleton was an ad executive and later a book publisher; until very recently, The Moonflower Vine was thought to be her only novel (and it was the only one she published in her lifetime). And what a novel it is. Set in 1930s Missouri, it's a heartbreaking, wonderful story of the Soames family. When the book opens, three adult daughters return to their childhood farm for a summer reunion; they're happy and they love each other and their parents, still married and in their seventies. After this idyllic beginning, Carleton takes us one by one into the hearts and minds of each member of the family, laying bare their secrets, their shames and the love that pulses through their veins.

The patriarch, Matthew Soames, is a teacher and a stern father who has provided a home for his wife and children but never shows them the love he feels. Daughter Jessica chooses a life her parents never intended for her, while young Mathy rebels at every turn and dutiful Leonie sacrifices herself for her parents after tragedy strikes. Little Mary Jo, the baby, lives a life closest to that of the author, off to the bright lights of New York City. And mother Callie nurses a secret nobody ever finds out.

What I loved about this book is how Carleton crafts such rich interior lives for all of her characters, with so much compassion for them, but never loses sight of how much these people love each other. Their secrets don't tear them apart but rather define them as autonomous people who nonetheless need and cherish each other. Each character is touched by a powerful romantic love with the power to redefine that person's life;  how they wield the power of those loves will determine the course of their lives.

The Moonflower Vine deserves to be a very popular book and would appeal to lots of different kinds of readers. Literary readers and readers of popular and women's fiction will love this book alike. It's one of those special books you just want to press into the hands of everyone you know. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

Rating: BUY!

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.