Jenny Wingfield has created something very special in this whirlpool of a novel. She wrote a story that continued to pull me in deeper and deeper, while still surprising me. Despite all the drama and heartache present in the Lake and Moses lives, I never felt emotionally manipulated and the plot never seemed contrived. Those are significant accomplishments, especially for a first-time novelist.
Set in rural Arkansas, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is told from the perspectives of many characters with outstanding names such as Willadee, Toy, Ras and Blade. But most of the tale belongs to the enchanting voice of 11 year-old Swan Lake, a significant name on its own. In the tradition of Scout Finch, Swan is a determined, outspoken and intrepid heroine. I fell in love with her voice quickly.
You don’t go around questioning the Bible, not if you want to go to Heaven one of these days. Besides, once you start picking holes in things, it’s hard to figure out which parts to throw away and which parts to keep.”
Religion is an important component of this story as Swan’s father, the titular Samuel Lake, is a preacher without a flock. Wingfield doesn’t shy away from ideas of faith or miracles, but also leaves enough mystery for readers to draw their own conclusions. She also allows the story to unfold slowly, giving us a chance to get to know the characters and their complexities. No one fits neatly into a one-dimensional character box except for the “son-of-the-devil” Ras Ballenger, from whom more than his son needs rescuing.
What ultimately unfolds is a story of family, loyalty and faith that I found hard to put down. At times deeply disturbing, I found these characters ultimately inspiring and very real.
Jenny Wingfield is definitely a writer to watch.
Advanced paperback copy provided by Random House.
- The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (nancysbookshelf.wordpress.com)