The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

( 47 )

Overview

“Raw, dark, and powerful . . . Southern Gothic at its best. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake puts one in mind of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor.”—Fannie Flagg
 
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 ...
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Overview

“Raw, dark, and powerful . . . Southern Gothic at its best. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake puts one in mind of Erskine Caldwell and Flannery O’Connor.”—Fannie Flagg
 
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.
 
“Jenny Wingfield has given us a spectacular novel [that] will make you laugh out loud one minute, hold your breath the next, and weep when you least expect it.”—Dorothea Benton Frank, author of Folly Beach
 
“[This novel] touches on many genres—family life, Christian fiction, coming-of-age, and suspense. . . . Readers will love it.”—Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Wingfield hooks the reader with her opening sentence. . . . The reader is thoroughly caught up in the family saga.”—Abilene Reporter-News
 
“A lovely debut . . . a bittersweet, inspirational tale.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
Look for special features inside. Join the Circle for author chats and more.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Discover Great New Writers

From classics like To Kill a Mockingbird to contemporary fare like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the Deep South of the mid-twentieth century has proved fertile ground for novelists eager to probe humanity's potential for extreme cruelty and boundless grace. Discover is glad to add to that list The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, Wingfield's debut novel, which has all the richness of character, setting, and story that a lasting work of literature should offer. The year is 1956, and John and Calla Moses are about to host the annual family reunion for their four children, their children's spouses, and their 11 grandchildren. But this year's celebration is tinged with sadness. The couple has been growing apart, John's drinking has worsened, and the memory of a son killed in an accident hangs in the air. Soon the family will learn that their preacher son-in-law no longer has a church to lead. And before the reunion is over, the family will suffer an unspeakable tragedy that will haunt them all.

Counteracting this sadness are three grandchildren—especially Swan, an 11-year-old middle child whose restlessness, energy, and unwavering moral compass set the main action of the story in motion. Her soulful encounter with a young stranger in peril ultimately gives everyone the opportunity to come to terms with life's tragedies and to move on with hope.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is a pleasure to read, as luxurious and enveloping as a drawn-out Southern summer.

From the Publisher

“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.”—USA Today
 
“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].”—Forth Worth Star-Telegram
 
“Jenny Wingfield has given us a spectacular novel [that] will make you laugh out loud one minute, hold your breath the next, and weep when you least expect it.”—Dorothea Benton Frank, author of Folly Beach
 
“[This novel] touches on many genres—family life, Christian fiction, coming-of-age, and suspense. . . . Readers will love it.”—Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Wingfield hooks the reader with her opening sentence. . . . The reader is thoroughly caught up in the family saga.”—Abilene Reporter-News
 
“A lovely debut . . . a bittersweet, inspirational tale.”—The Dallas Morning News

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1950s Arkansas, screenwriter Wingfield's restrained, sometimes dark debut novel tells the story of preacher Samuel Lake and his family and how they are all affected by their move back to his wife Willadee's hometown. After Willadee's father kills himself and Samuel finds out that there's no church post waiting for him in Louisiana, the Lakes' decide to stay with Willadee's mother, Calla, on the farm in Arkansas and help out with the family store. Samuel's gorgeous but delusional sister-in-law (who's also his former fiancée) Bernice, is delighted: she only meant to teach Samuel a lesson by marrying Willadee's brother, Toy, a decent guy who came home from the war and killed Bernice's lover with his bare hands. Toy fruitlessly hopes to regain his wife's affections, but he's gladdened by the presence of the three Lake children: Bienville, 9; Swan, 11; and particularly Noble, 12, whom he takes under his wing after an encounter with school bullies. Swan, meanwhile, befriends the neighbors' abused son, Blade, and the children witness a horrible scene in which Blade is disfigured by his violent father, Ras, who also reveals his sadism with the horses he trains for a living. Wingfield writes complex, believable heroes, although her villains are straight from central casting, but the writing is good and the story well done, with redemption trumping tragedy in scenes ripe with tension and dread. (July)
Library Journal
In 1950s Arkansas, 12-year-old Swan Lake does what she thinks is right—she hides an eight-year-old friend whose father has been beating him mercilessly. Alas, Swan's preacher father has different ideas. This debut from screenwriter Wingfield (e.g., The Man in the Moon, starring a young Reese Witherspoon) is getting a big push, including a nine-city tour. A good bet, especially for regional libraries.
Kirkus Reviews

Movie viewers who remember the 1991 tearjerker The Man in the Moon know what to expect from screenwriter Wingfield's first novel, a rural Christian heart-warmer set in 1956 southern Arkansas.

When he loses his latest pulpit, idealistic Methodist preacher Samuel Lake, his lovingly pragmatic wife Willadee and their three spunky kids move in with Willadee's newly widowed mother Calla Moses on what used to be the family farm. Now Calla runs a grocery store on the front porch. Willadee's brother Toy, a war hero who lost his leg saving a "Negro" soldier, has taken over the all-night bar Willadee's father opened on the back porch before he committed suicide. Years ago, Toy killed the man he caught messing with his wife Bernice on the very night he came home from overseas. Everyone in town knows he did it, but the sympathetic local police never brought charges. Ironically, Bernice is still not so secretly in love with her one-time fiancé Samuel and hopes to steal him back from Willadee. Meanwhile, almost-12-year-old Swan Lake—her name's ha-ha quality is frequently referred to but never explained—quickly gets into various scrapes with her brothers. Soon she becomes the angel/idol of little Blade Ballenger, whose sadistic, perverted father Ras is the evil counterpoint to the two versions of saintly goodness exemplified by Samuel, rigidly devout but never rigid, and Toy, a gentle warrior who protects those he loves at any cost. The early chapters' high spirits darken when Ras knocks out Blade's eye with a horse whip while beating him. Soon Blade is living at the Moses house under Toy's particular protection, Ras is plotting vengeance, and the Lake marriage is in trouble thanks to a subtle nudge from Bernice. Expect not only rape but also kitten murder. Wingfield's film experience shows in her flair for dialogue. But the simplistic division between good and evil characters and her apparent approval of righteous killing going unpunished may trouble some readers.

Hefty helpings of corn-pone charm become leaden with down-home sanctimony.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385344098
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/10/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 347,833
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenny Wingfield
Jenny Wingfield lives in Texas with her rescued dogs, cats, and horses. Her screenplay credits include The Man in the Moon and The Outsider. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is her first novel.
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Read an Excerpt

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

A Novel
By Jenny Wingfield

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Copyright © 2012 Jenny Wingfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385344098

Chapter 1

Columbia County, Arkansas, 1956

John Moses couldn’t have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he’d planned it for a lifetime. Which was possible. He was contrary as a mule. It was the weekend of the Moses family reunion, and everything was perfect—or at least perfectly normal—until John went and ruined it.

The reunion was always held the first Sunday in June. It had been that way forever. It was tradition. And John Moses had a thing about tradition. Every year or so, his daughter, Willadee (who lived way off down in Louisiana), would ask him to change the reunion date to the second Sunday in June, or the first Sunday in July, but John had a stock answer.

“I’d rather burn in Hell.”

Willadee would remind her father that he didn’t believe in Hell, and John would remind her that it was God he didn’t believe in, the vote was still out about Hell. Then he would throw in that the worst thing about it was, if there did happen to be a hell, Willadee’s husband, Samuel Lake, would land there right beside him, since he was a preacher, and everybody knew that preachers (especially Methodists, like Samuel) were the vilest bunch of bandits alive.

Willadee never argued with her daddy, but the thing was, annual conference started the first Sunday in June. That was when all the Methodist ministers in Louisiana found out from their district superintendents how satisfied or dissatisfied their congregations had been that past year, and whether they were going to get to stay in one place or have to move.

Usually, Samuel would have to move. He was the kind who ruffled a lot of feathers. Not on purpose, mind you. He just went along doing what he thought was right—which included driving out into the boonies on Sunday mornings, and loading up his old rattletrap car with poor people (sometimes ragged, barefoot poor people), and hauling them into town for services. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d had separate services, one for the folks from the boonies and one for fine, upright citizens whose clothes and shoes were presentable enough to get them into Heaven, no questions asked. But Samuel Lake was of the bothersome conviction that God loved everybody the same. Add this to the fact that he preached with what some considered undue fervor, frequently thumping the pulpit for emphasis and saying things like “If you believe that, say ‘AMEN’!” when he knew full well that Methodists were trying to give up that sort of thing, and you can see what his churches were up against.

John Moses didn’t give a hoot about Samuel’s obligations. He wasn’t about to mess with Moses tradition just because Willadee had been fool enough to marry a preacher.

Of course, Samuel wasn’t a preacher when Willadee married him. He was a big, strapping country boy, strong as an ox, and dangerously good- looking. Black-haired and blue-eyed—Welsh and Irish or some such mix. Several girls in Columbia County had taken to their beds for a week when Samuel married that plain, quiet Willadee Moses.

Samuel Lake was magic. He was wonderful and terrible, with an awful temper and fearsome tenderness, and when he loved, he loved with his whole heart. He had a clear tenor voice, and he could play the guitar or the fiddle or the mandolin or just about any other instrument you could think of. Folks all over the county used to talk about Samuel and his music.

“Sam Lake can play anything he can pick up.”

“He can make strings talk.”

“He can make them speak in tongues.”

Every year, the day after school let out for the summer, Samuel and Willadee would load up their kids, Noble and Swan and Bienville, and take off for south Arkansas. Willadee already had freckles everywhere the sun had ever touched, but she would always roll the window down and hang her arm out, and God would give her more. Her boisterous, sand-colored hair would fly in the breeze, tossing and tangling, and eventually she would laugh out loud, just because going home made her feel so free.

Columbia County was located down on the tail end of Arkansas, which looked just the same as north Louisiana. When God made that part of the country, He made it all in one big piece, and He must have had a good time doing it. There were rolling hills and tall trees and clear creeks with sandy bottoms and wildflowers and blue skies and great puffy clouds that hung down so low you’d almost believe you could reach up and grab a handful. That was the upside. The downside was brambles and cockleburs and a variety of other things

nobody paid much attention to, since the upside outweighed the downside by a mile.

Because of the annual conference, Samuel never got to stay for the reunion. Just long enough to unload Willadee and the kids, and talk awhile with Willadee’s parents. At least, he talked with her mother, Calla. John would invariably gag and go outside the minute his son-in- law set foot in the house, but Calla thought Samuel hung the moon. Within an hour or so, Samuel would be kissing Willadee goodbye and patting her on the backside, right there in front of God and everybody. Then he’d hug the kids and tell them to mind their mama, and he’d head back to Louisiana. He always said goodbye to John as he left, but the old man never answered back. He couldn’t forgive Samuel for moving Willadee so far away, and he couldn’t forgive Willadee for going. Especially since she could have married Calvin Furlough, who now had a successful paint and body shop, and lived right down the road, and had the best coon dogs you ever laid eyes on. If Willadee had cooperated with her father by falling in love with Calvin, everything would have been different. She could have lived nearby, and been a comfort to John in his old age. And he (John) would not be stuck with a granddaughter named Swan Lake.

The Moses family lived all over Columbia County. All over. John and Calla had loved each other lustily, and had produced five children. Four sons and a daughter. All of these except Willadee and their youngest (Walter, who had died in a sawmill accident the year he turned twenty) still lived around Magnolia, all within forty miles of the old homeplace.

The “old homeplace” had been a sprawling hundred-acre farm, which provided milk and eggs and meat and vegetables and fruit and berries and nuts and honey. It took some coaxing. The land gave little up for free. The farm was dotted with outbuildings that John and his sons had erected over the years. Barns and sheds and smokehouses and outhouses, most of which were leaning wearily by 1956. When you don’t use a building anymore, it knows it’s lost its purpose.

The Moses house was a big two-story affair. Solidly built, but it leaned a little, too, these days, as if there weren’t enough souls inside anymore to hold it up. John and Calla had stopped farming several years back. Calla still had a garden and a few chickens, but they let the fields grow up, and walled in the front porch of the house, and turned it into a grocery store/service station. Calla had John paint her a sign, but she couldn’t decide whether she wanted the thing to say “Moses’ Grocery and Service Station” or “Moses’ Gas and Groceries.” While she was making up her mind, John ran out of patience and nailed the sign above the front door. It said, simply, moses.

Calla would get out of bed every morning, go down to the store, and start a pot of coffee perking, and farmers would drop by on their way to the cattle auction or the feed store, and warm their behinds at the woodstove, and drink Calla’s coffee.

Calla had a way with the customers. She was an ample, comfortable woman, with capable hands, and people liked dealing with her. She didn’t really need John, not in the store. As a matter of fact, he got underfoot.

Now, John liked to drink. For thirty years, he’d laced his coffee with whiskey every morning before he headed out to the milk barn. That was to keep off the chill, in the winter. In the summertime, it was to brace him for the day. He no longer went to milk at dawn, but he still laced his coffee. He’d sit there in Calla’s store and visit with

the regulars, and by the time they were on their way to take care of the day’s business, John was usually on his way to being ripped. None of this sat well with Calla. She was used to her husband staying busy, and she told him, finally, that he needed an interest.

“I’ve got an interest, woman,” he told her. Calla was bent over, stoking the fire in the woodstove at the moment, so she presented a mighty tempting target. John aimed himself in her direction, and wobbled over behind her, and slipped his arms around her middle. Calla was caught so off guard that she burned her hand on the poker. She shrugged her husband off and sucked on her hand.

“I mean, one that’ll keep you out of my hair,” she snapped.

“You never wanted me out of your hair before.”

He was wounded. She hadn’t intended to wound him, but after all, wounds heal over. Most of them.

“I never had time to notice before if you was in my hair or not. Isn’t there anything you like to do anymore, besides roll around in bed?” Not that she minded rolling around in bed with her husband. She liked it now, maybe even more than she had in all the years they’d been together. But you couldn’t do that all day long just because a man had nothing else to occupy his time. Not when you had customers dropping by every few minutes.

John went to the counter where he’d been drinking his coffee. He poured himself another cup, and laced it good.

“There is,” he announced stiffly. “There most damn certainly is something else I like to do. And I’m about to do it.”

The thing he was talking about was getting drunk. Not just ripped. Blind drunk. Beyond thinking and reasoning drunk. He took his coffee and his bottle, and a couple more bottles he had stashed behind the counter, plus a package of doughnuts and two tins of Prince Albert. Then he went out to the barn, and he stayed for three days. When he’d been drunk enough long enough, and there was no further purpose to be served by staying drunk any longer, he came back to the house and took a hot bath and had a shave. That was the day he walled in the back porch of the house and started painting another sign.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Calla demanded, hands on hips, the way a woman stands when She Expects an Answer.

“I’m cultivating an interest,” John Moses said. “From now on, you’ve got a business, and I’ve got a business, and we don’t either one stick our noses in the other one’s business. You open at dawn and close at dusk, I’ll open at dusk and close at dawn. You won’t have to roll around with me anymore, because we won’t be keeping the same hours.”

“I never said I didn’t want to roll around with you.”

“The hell you never,” said John.

He took his sign, with the paint still wet, and he climbed up on his stepladder and nailed that sign above the back door. The paint was smudged, but the message was readable enough. It said, never closes.

Never Closes sold beer and wine and hard liquor seven nights a week, all night long. Since Columbia County was dry, it was illegal to sell alcohol to the public, so John didn’t call it selling. He was just serving drinks to his friends, that’s all. Sort of like gifts he gave them. Then, when they were ready to call it a night, his “friends” would each give John a gift of some sort. Five dollars, or ten dollars, or whatever his little ragged notebook indicated the gift should be.

The county sheriff and several deputies got into the habit of dropping by after their shifts, and John really didn’t sell to them, just poured them anything they wanted, on the house. Those fellows never saw so much free liquor, so it just stood to reason that there would be a lot of other things they didn’t see. But they were used to not seeing, under certain circumstances, so it all felt pretty right.

Before long, John got his own share of regulars who would drop by to play dominoes or shoot pool. They’d talk religion and politics, and tell filthy stories, and spit tobacco juice in the coffee cans John had set around, and they’d smoke until the air was thick enough to cut into cubes.

John took bitter pride in his new venture. He’d have dropped the whole thing in a heartbeat, would have torn down his walls and burned his sign and told his regulars to go to hell, if Calla would have apologized, but she had her own pride. There was a wedge between them, and she couldn’t see that she’d been the one to drive it.

After a while, Calla took to staying open seven days a week, too. Sometimes her last customers of the day would walk right out the front door and go around the house to the back door and drink up whatever money they had left over from buying groceries. Sometimes, it was the other way around. John’s customers would stagger out the back door at dawn and come around to the front (there was a well-worn path). They’d sober up on Calla’s coffee, then spend the rest of their money on food for their families.

You could go to the Moses place, any time of the day or night, and buy what you needed, provided your needs were simple. And you never had to leave until you were ready, because neither Calla nor John had the heart to run anybody off, even when they ran out of money. Nate Ramsey had stayed once for almost a week when his wife, Shirley, took to throwing things at home.

And that’s the way things went along, right up until the day John Moses died. Moses Never Closes was something folks counted on. It was a certain place in an uncertain world. Folks wanted it to stay the way it was, because 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield Copyright © 2012 by Jenny Wingfield. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1,

Columbia County, Arkansas, 1956

John Moses couldn't have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime. Which was possible. He was contrary as a mule. It was the weekend of the Moses family reunion, and everything was perfect—or at least perfectly normal—until John went and ruined it.

The reunion was always held the first Sunday in June. It had been that way forever. It was tradition. And John Moses had a thing about tradition. Every year or so, his daughter, Willadee (who lived way off down in Louisiana), would ask him to change the reunion date to the second Sunday in June, or the first Sunday in July, but John had a stock answer.

"I'd rather burn in Hell."

Willadee would remind her father that he didn't believe in Hell, and John would remind her that it was God he didn't believe in, the vote was still out about Hell. Then he would throw in that the worst thing about it was, if there did happen to be a hell, Willadee's husband, Samuel Lake, would land there right beside him, since he was a preacher, and everybody knew that preachers (especially Methodists, like Samuel) were the vilest bunch of bandits alive.

Willadee never argued with her daddy, but the thing was, annual conference started the first Sunday in June. That was when all the Methodist ministers in Louisiana found out from their district superintendents how satisfied or dissatisfied their congregations had been that past year, and whether they were going to get to stay in one place or have to move.

Usually, Samuel would have to move. He was the kind who ruffled a lot of feathers. Not on purpose, mind you. He just went along doing what he thought was right—which included driv ing out into the boonies on Sunday mornings, and loading up his old rattletrap car with poor people (sometimes ragged, barefoot poor people), and hauling them into town for services. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd had separate services, one for the folks from the boonies and one for fine, upright citizens whose clothes and shoes were presentable enough to get them into Heaven, no questions asked. But Samuel Lake was of the bothersome conviction that God loved everybody the same. Add this to the fact that he preached with what some considered undue fervor, frequently thumping the pulpit for emphasis and saying things like "If you believe that, say ‘AMEN'!" when he knew full well that Methodists were trying to give up that sort of thing, and you can see what his churches were up against.

John Moses didn't give a hoot about Samuel's obligations. He wasn't about to mess with Moses tradition just because Willadee had been fool enough to marry a preacher.

Of course, Samuel wasn't a preacher when Willadee married him. He was a big, strapping country boy, strong as an ox, and dangerously good- looking. Black- haired and blue- eyed— Welsh and Irish or some such mix. Several girls in Columbia County had taken to their beds for a week when Samuel married that plain, quiet Willadee Moses.

Samuel Lake was magic. He was wonderful and terrible, with an awful temper and fearsome tenderness, and when he loved, he loved with his whole heart. He had a clear tenor voice, and he could play the guitar or the fiddle or the mandolin or just about any other instrument you could think of. Folks all over the county used to talk about Samuel and his music.

"Sam Lake can play anything he can pick up."

"He can make strings talk."

"He can make them speak in tongues."

Every year, the day after school let out for the summer, Samuel and Willadee would load up their kids and take off for south Arkansas. Willadee already had freckles everywhere the sun had ever touched, but she would always roll the window down and hang her arm out, and God would give her more. Her boisterous, sand- colored hair would fly in the breeze, tossing and tangling, and eventually she would laugh out loud, just because going home made her feel so free. Willadee loved this ritual. This once-a-year road trip, when she was snugged into the car with her good, healthy family—all of them fairly vibrating with anticipation. This was her time for thinking about where they'd been and where they might be going and how well the kids were growing in to their names—the names she'd given them as blessings when they were born. The first boy, she'd called Noble. Her clear call to the universe to infuse him with courage and honor. The younger son was Bienville. A good city, or as Willadee thought of it, a peaceful place. The girl, she had named Swan. Not because a swan is beautiful but because it is powerful. A girl needs power that she doesn't have to borrow from anyone else, Willadee had thought. So far, her blessings seemed to be working. Noble was honest to a fault, Bienville was unfailingly amicable, and Swan radiated so much strength that she wore everybody else to a frazzle. Columbia County was located down on the tail end of Arkansas, which looked just the same as north Louisiana. When God made that part of the country, He made it all in one big piece, and He must have had a good time doing it. There were rolling hills and tall trees and clear creeks with sandy bottoms and wildflowers and blue skies and great puffy clouds that hung down so low you'd almost believe you could reach up and grab a handful. That was the upside. The downside was brambles and cockleburs and a variety of other things nobody paid much attention to, since the upside outweighed the downside by a mile.

Because of the annual conference, Samuel never got to stay for the reunion. Just long enough to unload Willadee and the kids, and talk awhile with Willadee's parents. At least, he talked with her mother, Calla. John would invariably gag and go outside the minute his sonin- law set foot in the house, but Calla thought Samuel hung the moon. Within an hour or so, Samuel would be kissing Willadee goodbye and patting her on the backside, right there in front of God and everybody. Then he'd hug the kids and tell them to mind their mama, and he'd head back to Louisiana. He always said goodbye to John as he left, but the old man never answered back. He couldn't forgive Samuel for moving Willadee so far away, and he couldn't forgive Willadee for going. Especially since she could have married Calvin Furlough, who now had a successful paint and body shop, and lived right down the road, and had the best coon dogs you ever laid eyes on. If Willadee had cooperated with her father by falling in love with Calvin, everything would have been different. She could have lived nearby, and been a comfort to John in his old age. And he (John) would not be stuck with a granddaughter named Swan Lake.

The Moses family lived all over Columbia County. All over. John and Calla had loved each other lustily, and had produced five children. Four sons and a daughter. All of these except Willadee and their youngest (Walter, who had died in a sawmill accident the year he turned twenty) still lived around Magnolia, all within forty miles of the old homeplace.

The "old homeplace" had been a sprawling hundred- acre farm, which provided milk and eggs and meat and vegetables and fruit and berries and nuts and honey. It took some coaxing. The land gave little up for free. The farm was dotted with outbuildings that John and his sons had erected over the years. Barns and sheds and smokehouses and outhouses, most of which were leaning wearily by 1956. When you don't use a building anymore, it knows it's lost its purpose. The Moses house was a big two- story affair. Solidly built, but it leaned a little, too, these days, as if there weren't enough souls inside anymore to hold it up. John and Calla had stopped farming several years back. Calla still had a garden and a few chickens, but they let the fields grow up, and walled in the front porch of the house, and turned it into a grocery store/service station. Calla had John paint her a sign, but she couldn't decide whether she wanted the thing to say "Moses' Grocery and Service Station" or "Moses' Gas and Groceries." While she was making up her mind, John ran out of patience and nailed the sign above the front door. It said, simply, moses. Calla would get out of bed every morning, go down to the store, and start a pot of coffee perking, and farmers would drop by on their way to the cattle auction or the feed store, and warm their behinds at the woodstove, and drink Calla's coffee.

Calla had a way with the customers. She was an ample, comfortable woman, with capable hands, and people liked dealing with her. She didn't really need John, not in the store. As a matter of fact, he got underfoot.

Now, John liked to drink. For thirty years, he'd laced his coffee with whiskey every morning before he headed out to the milk barn. That was to keep off the chill, in the winter. In the summertime, it was to brace him for the day. He no longer went to milk at dawn, but he still laced his coffee. He'd sit there in Calla's store and visit with the regulars, and by the time they were on their way to take care of the day's business, John was usually on his way to being ripped. None of this sat well with Calla. She was used to her husband staying busy, and she told him, finally, that he needed an interest.

"I've got an interest, woman," he told her. Calla was bent over, stoking the fire in the woodstove at the moment, so she presented a mighty tempting target. John aimed himself in her direction, and wobbled over behind her, and slipped his arms around her middle. Calla was caught so off guard that she burned her hand on the poker. She shrugged her husband off and sucked on her hand.

"I mean, one that'll keep you out of my hair," she snapped.

"You never wanted me out of your hair before."

He was wounded. She hadn't intended to wound him, but after all, wounds heal over. Most of them.

"I never had time to notice before if you was in my hair or not. Isn't there anything you like to do anymore, besides roll around in bed?" Not that she minded rolling around in bed with her husband. She liked it now, maybe even more than she had in all the years they'd been together. But you couldn't do that all day long just because a man had nothing else to occupy his time. Not when you had customers dropping by every few minutes.

John went to the counter where he'd been drinking his coffee. He poured himself another cup, and laced it good.

"There is," he announced stiffly. "There most damn certainly is something else I like to do. And I'm about to do it."

The thing he was talking about was getting drunk. Not just ripped. Blind drunk. Beyond thinking and reasoning drunk. He took his coffee and his bottle, and a couple more bottles he had stashed behind the counter, plus a package of doughnuts and two tins of Prince Albert. Then he went out to the barn, and he stayed for three days. When he'd been drunk enough long enough, and there was no further purpose to be served by staying drunk any longer, he came back to the house and took a hot bath and had a shave. That was the day he walled in the back porch of the house and started painting another sign.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" Calla demanded, hands on hips, the way a woman stands when She Expects an Answer. "I'm cultivating an interest," John Moses said. "From now on, you've got a business, and I've got a business, and we don't either one stick our noses in the other one's business. You open at dawn and close at dusk, I'll open at dusk and close at dawn. You won't have to roll around with me anymore, because we won't be keeping the same hours."

"I never said I didn't want to roll around with you."

"The hell you never," said John.

He took his sign, with the paint still wet, and he climbed up on his stepladder and nailed that sign above the back door. The paint was smudged, but the message was readable enough. It said, never closes.

Never Closes sold beer and wine and hard liquor seven nights a week, all night long. Since Columbia County was dry, it was illegal to sell alcohol to the public, so John didn't call it selling. He was just serving drinks to his friends, that's all. Sort of like gifts he gave them. Then, when they were ready to call it a night, his "friends" would each give John a gift of some sort. Five dollars, or ten dollars, or whatever his little ragged notebook indicated the gift should be. The county sheriff and several deputies got into the habit of dropping by after their shifts, and John really didn't sell to them, just poured them anything they wanted, on the house. Those fellows never saw so much free liquor, so it just stood to reason that there would be a lot of other things they didn't see. But they were used to not seeing, under certain circumstances, so it all felt pretty right. Before long, John got his own share of regulars who would drop by to play dominoes or shoot pool. They'd talk religion and politics, and tell filthy stories, and spit tobacco juice in the coffee cans John had set around, and they'd smoke until the air was thick enough to cut into cubes.

John took bitter pride in his new venture. He'd have dropped the whole thing in a heartbeat, would have torn down his walls and burned his sign and told his regulars to go to hell, if Calla would have apologized, but she had her own pride. There was a wedge between them, and she couldn't see that she'd been the one to drive it. After a while, Calla took to staying open seven days a week, too. Sometimes her last customers of the day would walk right out the front door and go around the house to the back door and drink up whatever money they had left over from buying groceries. Sometimes, it was the other way around. John's customers would stagger out the back door at dawn and come around to the front (there was a wellworn path). They'd sober up on Calla's coffee, then spend the rest of their money on food for their families.

You could go to the Moses place, any time of the day or night, and buy what you needed, provided your needs were simple. And you never had to leave until you were ready, because neither Calla nor John had the heart to run anybody off, even when they ran out of money. Nate Ramsey had stayed once for almost a week when his wife, Shirley, took to throwing things at home.

And that's the way things went along, right up until the day John Moses died. Moses Never Closes was something folks counted on. It was a certain place in an uncertain world. Folks wanted it to stay the way it was, because 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.

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Reading Group Guide

Reader's Guide for The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

1. What would you sacrifice for your family? Did Toy do the right thing? Did Sam?

2. What purpose did Swan and Uncle Toy have to each other and to the other characters in the story?

3. In what ways does The Homecoming of Samuel Lake remind you of other Southern Gothic style literature? Give examples.

4. How does the character Swan Lake compare to Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird? How does Atticus Finch compare to Samuel Lake?

5. Compare the characters of Willadee and Bernice. How were they different? How were they similar?

6. What role does the church play in the development of the story? Why does Swan wish that her father was anything but a preacher?

7. Explore the difference between the Moses' Truth and the Honest Truth. Both present their own challenges. Discuss how in the end the Honest Truth supports the Moses Truth.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 47 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(34)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

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1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 47 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 1, 2011

    Great Characters, Terrific Story

    "John Moses couldn't have planned a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime. Which was possible. He was contrary as a mule." These first lines grabbed me, but I wasn't sure I would be able to read this book. After I requested a galley, I read a review that said there was a lot of animal abuse in the story, and I have a really hard time reading about that, even in fiction. There was, and I loved this book anyway. There was also child abuse, domestic violence, and general mayhem of the sort that you can't help but believe is real. All of it was integral to this family's story. This saga about the Moses/Lake clans is set in 1956 Arkansas, where Samuel Lake, a preacher no one wants, ends up staying with his wife's family while he waits for a new church to be assigned to him. God will tell him the way. He teaches his children that miracles happen, and perhaps they depend on those miracles a little too literally. In the meantime, his wife, Willadee, does what she needs to to keep the family running smoothly, and while the members of the Moses family never lies, they sometimes don't exactly tell the truth, either. Ras is a truly evil person and the Moses's neighbor. His child, Blade, is as beat down and hopeless as the horses that Ras trains. That is until Swan Lake, Samuel and Wiladee's 11-year old daughter, accidentally comes into his life. Swan reminds me of Scout Finch, has that same wonderful spirit. I fell in love with the characters in this book - well, those that I didn't fall in hate with, anyway. This is one of those novels that once I jumped into, I didn't want to climb out. Author Jenny Wingfield is a screenwriter, but this is her first novel. I'm really hoping it won't be her last. I was given an advance reader's edition of this book by the publisher, for which I am very grateful. Because the copy I read was an ARE, the quote may have changed in the published edition. But I hope not. The publication date is slated for July 12, 2011.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2012

    Best book I have read in YEARS!!!

    Loved this book from beginning-middle-end. EXCELLENT story, unique, entertaining, wonderful read. Characters were engrossing and truly believable.
    I cannot believe this was the author's first novel!!! B-R-A-V-O !!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2011

    LOVE LOVE LOVE

    Most heartwarming book I've read in long time Guaranteed Goose Bumps.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2012

    Fabulous!!

    This is a fabulous story of good versus evil, a story of love and compassion, brokeness and healing, and a man that stays true to his Father regardless of circumstance. You will fall in love with the characters, adults and children alike. They are so well developed that you feel as though you know them, they become a part of you and steal your heart. This first time author, has done an amazing job of breathing life into this family and their story. You will laugh at the quick wit of Swan and most definately cry at the heart wrenching abuse that is inflicted on a child and animals. I loved this novel and cannot wait to read Ms. Jenny Wingfields future work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    One of 2011's best

    I put The Homecoming of Samuel Lake on my Most Compelling Books of 2011 list. The story begins with the patriarch of the Moses family killing himself at the annual family reunion. Set in Arkansas in the 1950s, Samuel Lake is a preacher who has once again lost his job and retreats back home to his wife Willadee's family to regroup. Samuel and Willadee have a wonderful marriage, they are very supportive of each other. They have three young children, Swan being the only girl. Samuel used to date Bernice, who later married Toy, Willadee's brother. Bernice is still in love with Samuel, and decides to use her beauty and feminine wiles to get Samuel back. Samuel sets up a tent revival, hoping to get enough people to come and perhaps getting a permanent preaching job out of it. Willadee works during the day at her father's bar, Never Closes, which is attached to their home, and also houses the grocery store that Willadee's mother runs. Swan and her brothers find Blade, a mysterious young boy, hiding in their barn and discover that he has been badly abused by his father, Ras Ballenger. Ballenger is evil personified, and every time he makes an appearance in the novel, I got chills. He beat his wife, sons, and the horses that he was supposed to be training. He is one bad, bad man. When Swan's family takes the young boy in, Ballenger swears vengeance against the Moses/Lake family, and waiting for his plan to take place ratchets up the tension in this heartbreaking, beautifully crafted novel. I finished the book on the treadmill and almost had to get off because I was sobbing so hard. I loved the characters in this book, with Toy being my favorite. He is man of few words, so when he speaks it is powerful. He also has a sense of sadness about him. Seriously injured in WWII, there is a question of whether or not he killed a man involved with his wife while he overseas. He forms strong bonds with the children, and his tenderness with them melts your heart. His evolution is moving, and Toy is a truly unforgettable literary creation. So many of the characters are well-drawn- Willadee, Swan, Samuel, Blade, Bernice, even Ras. The way the Lake family lived their faith was inspirational. They loved God and each other, and tried hard to embody their faith everyday. I liked the way that Wingfield wrote how important it was to the family and the story. The difficulty of being married plays a large role in the book. Willadee and Samuel's marriage is tested, but is strong. Contrast that with Toy and Bernice's unhappy, lonely marriage and the sadness that Willadee's mother feels about how the last years of her marriage unfolded. I think the author is saying that marriage is something that needs to be cared for and tended if it is to survive. My favorite lines from the book are from Willadee and Toy's mother, about Blade's effect on Toy: "She had no idea that Swan was also doing something special for Toy, or that Toy's life was changing in ways he could have never anticipated. All she knew was that this little boy was doing a kindness for her own little boy- the man who had been her little boy- and her gratitude knew no bounds." As a mother of two sons, those lines killed me. I could go on and on about this book, but all I really need to tell you is that if you love beautifully crafted books, with a compelling story and characters that feel so real, you will love The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. I almost wish I were reading ag

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2011

    Marvelous

    I have not read a book in a while where the characters were so well laid out and the narrative so vivid and the story that continued to grow. Extremely pleased to have a local author do such amazing work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Interesting characters. Definately worth a read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011

    Excellent - A Must Read!

    This book was captivating right from the beginning. I loved the evolution of Samuel and Toy's roles, as well as the store/bar. The author has a real talent for rich character portrayal. I especially loved her portrayal of Swan. I relived some of my childhood adventures through Swan's imaginative play. This is a truly heartwarming and heartbreaking story!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2011

    Highly Recommend!

    One of the better books I have read in a long time. The story pulls you in so that you feel a connection with each character. It's a wonderful story of individuals finding their way through trials and failure and of a family who understands and values the differences of each member. It made me laugh and cry.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

    A fabulous Texas book by a soon to be famous Texas author. Takes you to a time and place you've never been. The characters are believeable and real. An all around good read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 3, 2011

    I loved this book!!!!!!!!

    I started this book and could not put it down. The story keeps you going with every turn of the page.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommend!

    I could hardly put this book down. Wonderful debut book by Jenny Wingfield. Wingfield does a good job of captivating the reader in this tale of good vs evil. This is an emotionally charged book, with several breathtaking moments, and one moment that left me sobbing for thirty minutes (the only time I put the book down). This is some of the best storytelling I've read in years and the book has the potential of becoming a great movie. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2011

    Brilliant Debut Novel!!!

    This book is going to haunt me for a long time. What an incredible debut novel from Jenny Wingfield. This novel is set in rural Arkansas in the 1950s. The extended family has gathered for an annual reunion when tragedy strikes. And though the country setting seems picturesque, human failings lurk everywhere. There is plenty of goodness in this book but there is also evil. An evil so vile that I had trouble reading at times. But the writer has such an amazing way with words that you cannot stop reading. You have to know what happens. It is a story about change and a story about faith, redemption and miracles.

    This is not a children's story but the children are the heart and soul of this story. Fearless eleven year old Swan Lake has been compared to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. And she is fearless and wonderful and has a heart overflowing with kindness and love. Blade Ballenger, their eight year old neighbor stole my heart. I wanted to jump into the pages of the book and save him myself from his terrifying father and ineffectual mother. Everyone in the family goes through immense changes in this book including of course the title character, Swan's father, Samuel Lake. Samuel is a preacher without a church trying to keep his family together and maintain his dignity. Every character in this book has a role to play in this brilliant work of fiction.

    I do believe in miracles. I cannot overemphasize how powerful this book is. Highly recommend this brilliant debut novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A compelling story that will have you believing in miracles!

    Every once in awhile you come across a book so profound in its ability to tell a story that needs to be told but no one wants to share. This is a review of that book, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield.

    Samuel Lake has been a hellfire and brimstone preacher in Louisana for as long as he can remember the call of God on his life. He believes that people need to hear the word God has for them no matter how much they cringe on the inside when they hear it. It's that particular kind of preaching that has kept him moving from congregation to congregation, always unrooting his family until they can find a new church home for him to share his message with. Now Samuel's options have run out and there are no more churches for him to go to. Unsure of what God's purpose is for him at this point of his life, he returns to his mother in laws, Calla Moses and explains to his family that he feels like a failure but that trusting in God is vital to their faith.

    Willadee Lake spends time once a year at their families reunion with their children, Swan, Nobel and Bienville. Her father, John has been a drinker his whole life, now lacing his morning coffee with whiskey, he has built a bar on his walled in back porch that serves the community while prohibition is still intact. He has more than walled in areas of his life besides drinking, he has also isolated his family from him including his wife Calla. Now that the reunion is underway, he loses his temper during an argument with her, slapping her in front of everyone. When Willadee tells her father he is a disappointment, the last thing any of them hear is a shotgun blast within the walls of the bar.

    Now the family attempts to heal in so many ways. Calla is dealing with being alone at her age, without her husband. She asks Samuel and Willadee to move in to make things easier on all of them. Samuel attempts to find a job he can live with while trying to find God's calling in his life, while Willadee deals with a sister-in-law Bernice that still has her heart on winning Samuel back.

    Meanwhile the kids find that spending time on a hundred acre farm has more to keep them occupied than what they thought besides all their make-believe play. A small young boy, Blade Ballenger, is about to change all of their lives in a very shocking and dangerous way.

    I received this novel, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield compliment of TLC Book Tours for my honest review. I did not see the story developing the way it did, but it was so compelling it drew me into the lives of the Moses and Lake family that I could not put it down until I finished it. To me this is a sign of a great book, that you will eat dinner with it in your hand, take it with you wherever you go because you just have to know how it all ends and Jenny does a magical job at weaving these characters right before your eyes that you feel like you are a part of the book! To me, that makes this a 5 out of 5 stars. The story content can be sensitive to those dealing with suicide and violent content, but when telling a story like this you can understand why!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2014

    Beautiful character's

    This is a beautiful book that tugs on your heart strings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    Amazing!!

    Amazing! Full of action, twists, surprises, love, heartbreak, and overcoming obstacles. Amazing on every level. A must read [;

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    This is a great story. One of the better books I have read in a

    This is a great story. One of the better books I have read in a long time.

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  • Posted March 14, 2013

    This book was really fantastic!

    This book was really fantastic!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

    Amy

    Whos said Hi! I cant c headlines i roll a mossball to the kit smiling at her

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    PUGLOVER

    I hated to have this book end. The perfect mix of a great story and wonderful, believable, unforgetable characters. Read it and fall in love with them like I did

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