Review by Leah Cooper
Books are like old friends. When you come across one you haven’t seen in a while, it puts a smile on your face. That was my reaction when I recently noticed “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake” on the bookshelf at Jefferson Carnegie Library.
Several years ago, my sister Elaine A. Clark was one of the authors speaking at the Pulpwood Queen’s Girlfriend Weekend book festival in Jefferson.
Since Elaine’s book was about how to get into the voiceover acting business, she shared the keynote speaker stage with Jenny Wingfield, a screenwriter whose credits include “The Man in the Moon,” Reese Witherspoon’s first movie.
Afterwards, I read and loved Wingfield’s debut novel, “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake.” The author evokes the feel of rural southwest Arkansas in the 1950s, a setting not too far from Jefferson. Each summer, in the first week of June, Samuel Lake drops his wife Willadee and their three children, Noble, Bienville and Swan, at her parents’ home for the annual Moses family reunion.
Samuel then heads back to Louisiana for the Methodist annual conference, where Samuel will find out which church he is going to next. It seems that each year the Lake family must move, since “Samuel Lake is of the bothersome conviction that God loved everybody the same.”
Unfortunately, his congregations weren’t that delighted with how he put that conviction into practice.The summer of 1956 throws in a different twist, though, when Samuel learns there is no church willing to have him, while at the reunion, tragedy strikes the Moses family.
The best option seems to be for the Lakes to move into the Moses home place. Willadee’s father, John Moses, is a stickler for tradition, and considers his home and the store/unofficial bar he and his wife run, a certain place in an uncertain world.
As the story unfolds, the reader learns what John already knows, “once you change one part of a thing, all the other parts begin to shift, and pretty soon, you just don’t know what’s what anymore.”
Several reviews compare “The Homecoming of Samuel Lake” to “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
USA Today said, “It’s all here. Faith. Honesty. Sin. Redemption…Anyone who loves Scout in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will delight in Swan, the Lakes’ eleven-year-old daughter.”
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram described the novel as, “A deeply personal story, yet it has universal appeal…Swan Lake absolutely has the same plucky spirit as Scout Finch…Wingfield also has the same mesmerizingly graceful way with words [as Harper Lee].”This book has it all – lyrical writing; complex, well-developed characters; suspense; villains to hate; hardships tempered by loving family; and laugh out loud lines.
Come by Jefferson Carnegie Library to check it out.
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