The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: July 2012
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Book Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: The Lake Family - Samuel Lake and his wife, Willadee Moses Lake and their children Noble, Swan and Bienville - arrive in Arkansas at Hill House, the home of John and Calla Moses, the first Sunday in June for the Moses Family reunion. Willadee is giddy with excitement because she loves going home to the farm where she grew up and seeing her momma and daddy. Her happiness is infectious and soon the children are bursting with excitement, too. On the Moses farm they can run and play to their hearts content. Swan is also excited because when her daddy isn’t around, which is often, her mom lets her wear boys clothes instead of dresses!
Samuel, a Methodist preacher, to the horror of Willadee’s daddy, is a good, honest, loving man with an unshakable faith and a belief in God’s loves for everybody. Samuel believes God answers our prayers and questions even though the answers aren’t always apparent and don’t always make sense. As the children of a preacher, Swan and her brothers lives have been steeped in religion and they share their father’s beliefs. Eleven-year old Swan was named Swan because Willadee believes a girl needs power all her own and swans are extremely powerful. Swan and her name fit each other like a glove. Swan is not only bright, precocious and curious but she‘s strong and formidable. She questions most everything she’s told including what she learns about God. She believes what Samuel tells her but when she sees things in the world around her that don‘t make sense or aren’t right or fair she‘s puzzled and curious.
Religion, God and the concept of miracles are some of the main themes in The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. Jenny Wingfield successfully incorporates these topics into the story in a serious and respectful way without being preachy or heavy-handed. Samuel wants his children to share his love and fondness for God and the world so he conveys to them a God who is sometimes mysterious and, though not always understandable, always loving. Swan shares what she knows about God and his works with a new friend, a little boy named Blade who lives on a neighboring farm. Blade’s family is shockingly different from the Moses and Lake families. Swan and her brothers, as well as the adults in the family, will learn some tough lessons through Blade, much of which they’d rather not know. Learning about Blade’s life makes Swan and her family especially grateful for what they have in life.
This particular summer is one of great joy but also shocking sadness for the Moses and Lake families. Swan and her brothers learn that true evil exists this world, and can exact tremendous pain and suffering, when it finds its way to the Moses farm this summer. Samuel and Swan’s beliefs in God and miracles will be severely tested. Suspense builds slowly as the story progresses. Ms. Wingfield teases her readers by lulling us into feeling relaxed and easy as we read about the new pony Uncle Toy buys for Swan and her brothers, how the children show their gratitude to him and about the revival meeting Samuel is planning to hold across the road from Hill House. But then, suddenly, she reminds us of the evil that exists close by until, as the last quarter of the book looms, a completely shocking event occurs. Although I expected something bad to happen, I wasn’t prepared for what does happen. It’s horrid and I almost skipped a few pages.
Ms. Wingfield writing is so compelling and her storytelling so rich and absorbing with many surprises to skip over any part of this book I’m glad I didn’t because I was rewarded with some fascinating, although also sad, chapters as the suspenseful aspect of the storyline culminated in a heart-gripping incident which was finally resolved with a surprising twist. The themes of family, love and support and honesty, which are part of the story from the beginning, are the focus of the last several chapters of the book. One character, whom I don't want to reveal, makes a startling sacrifice out of love and obligation that actually brough tears to my eyes. Ms. Wingfield has written a very powerful novel with amazing characters that I won't soon forget. I was sad to have this book end and, although I wished the story was longer, when and how The Homecoming of Samuel Lake ended and felt right.
Ms. Wingfield’s remarkable debut novel wouldn’t be the mesmerizing story it is without the wonderful cast of characters. Most are thoughtful, kind and loving but they’re also real with faults and flaws that make them identifiable to us. Some are self-centered, others are lazy, some drink too much, and some aren’t as honest as they think they are. My favorite and the star of this book is the out-spoken, sassy Swan Lake. She reminds me of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird with a unique and fascinating mind always working, questioning and thinking. I imagine they’d be great friends. Calla Moses, Swan’s grandmother, is a woman I’d love to have in my family. She’s honest, a straight-talker, practical and loving. She adores gardening, cooks wonderful food and has a giving heart. She adores her grandchildren and is thrilled the Lake family moved into Hill House. Calla has one big regret in life which she shares with Willadee so her daughter can avoid making the same mistake. Swan’s father, Samuel, the preacher, is another character I liked quite a bit. He’s a kind man with an enthusiasm for life. When he finally finds what he believes he’s meant to do, his joy is palpable. This is a book I cannot recommend highly enough. I’m already looking forward to Jenny Wingfield’s next book.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and to Random House for an ARC copy of this book.