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The Moonflower Vine
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The Moonflower Vine

4.1 60
by Jetta Carleton, Jane Smiley (Foreword by)

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A timeless American classic rediscovered—an unforgettable saga of a heartland family

On a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century, Matthew and Callie Soames create a life for themselves and raise four headstrong daughters. Jessica will break their hearts. Leonie will fall in love with the wrong


A timeless American classic rediscovered—an unforgettable saga of a heartland family

On a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century, Matthew and Callie Soames create a life for themselves and raise four headstrong daughters. Jessica will break their hearts. Leonie will fall in love with the wrong man. Mary Jo will escape to New York. And wild child Mathy's fate will be the family's greatest tragedy. Over the decades they will love, deceive, comfort, forgive—and, ultimately, they will come to cherish all the more fiercely the bonds of love that hold the family together.

Editorial Reviews

Nora Krug
It's hard to say which is more surprising: that Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine is her first novel, that it's her only published novel—or that it's essentially been forgotten…The family appears to enjoy a wholesome lifestyle in which a day might center on an excursion to smoke out honeybees or marvel at the moonflowers of the title, but yearnings lurk (though in a virtuous way; one character is seduced after reading Bible verses). Among the great pleasures of the novel is watching this chaste image unravel; the other is the writing, which captures both the beauty of the natural world and the complexities of human emotion.
—The Washington Post

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HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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The Moonflower Vine

Chapter One

My father had a farm on the western side of Missouri, below the river, where the Ozark Plateau levels to join the plains. This is a region cut by creeks, where high pastures rise out of wooded valleys to catch the sunlight and fall away over limestone bluffs. It is a pretty country. It does not demand your admiration, as some regions do, but seems glad for it all the same. It repays you with serenity, corn and persimmons, blackberries, black walnuts, bluegrass and wild roses. A provident land, in its modest way. The farm lay in its heart two hundred acres on a slow brown stream called Little Tebo.

The nineteenth century had not yet ended when my parents, Matthew and Callie Soames, first came to the farm. They arrived newlywedded, with a teakettle, a featherbed, and a span of mules. Later they went to live in a small town, where my father taught school. Sometimes they came back to the farm for the summer. After many years they came home to stay. They painted the house and propped up the old gray barn, bought a bull and a butane tank, and lived here the year around, as happy as if they were hale and twenty instead of a frail old pair who would not see seventy again.

My sisters and I used to visit them on the farm. We came each summer—Jessica from deep in the Ozarks, Leonie from a little town in Kansas, and I from New York, where I worked in television, then a new industry, very mysterious to my family. To me, and somewhat to my sisters, these visits were like income tax, an annual inconvenience. There were always so many other ways we could have spent the time. But, old as we were, our parents werestill the government. They levied the tribute and we paid it.

Once we got there, we were happy enough. We lapsed easily into the old ways, cracked the old jokes, fished in the creek, ate country cream and grew fat and lazy. It was a time of placid unreality. The lives we lived outside were suspended, the affairs of the world forgotten and our common blood remembered. No matter that our values differed now, that we had gone our separate ways; when we met like this on familiar ground, we enjoyed one another.

I remember particularly a summer in the early fifties. Jessica's husband and Leonie's had stayed behind that year, one was a farmer, the other a mechanic, and neither could get away at the time. Only Leonie's boy had come with her. Soames was a tall, beautiful, disconsolate child who had just turned eighteen. In a few weeks he was leaving to join the Air Force, and Leonie could hardly bear it. Once he was gone, there was so much he would have left undone, so much unsaid, that neither of them would ever again have a chance to do or say. It was a sad time for them. For the rest of us, too, especially as the war was still going on in Korea. The war itself troubled us deeply, and it gave his leaving a special gravity. We could not think of one without the other. And yet, here in deep country, remote from the outside world, it was possible, for the moment, to think of neither. There was no daily paper. Nobody bothered with the radio. The little news that came our way seemed unreal and no concern of ours. Only the planes roaring over each day from an airbase on the north reminded us of danger, and soon even they lost their menace. Their shadows slipped across the pasture and yard like the shadows of clouds, hardly more sinister. The farm was a little island in a sea of summer. And a faraway war where young men were dying troubled us less than the shooting of one old man.

This had happened close to home, a mile or two up the road. A recluse farmer named Corcoran had been shot by his only son, a poor creature recently discharged from the army. My parents found the old man the next morning, rolled under a bed like a rug in summer and left there to die. He was still, though barely, alive. They drove him twenty miles to a hospital, my mother sitting in the back seat with the old man's head in her lap.

All this had taken place just before our arrival. On our last day but one, we were still talking about it.

"Poor old thing," said my mother, "be a blessing if he could die."

"Yes, it would," said my father. "Nobody to care for him at all."

"He was a grouchy old thing, but he doesn't deserve to suffer."

"How old is he?" I said.

"He must be seventy, at least," said my mother. The way she talked, he could have been her grandfather.

"Have they caught the boy?" said Soames.

"Not yet."

"Wonder how come him to do that."

"I don't know," said my father. "Some say the old man was pretty hard on him."

"There were all kinds of tales!" my mother said. "About his daddy chainin' him in the smokehouse and all that. I never believed 'em."

"Idle gossip," said Dad. "The old man had a way of antagonizing people and they had to get back at him. He was rough and crude in his ways, but he wasn't mean."

"No, he wasn't. The boy was just odd, that's all. He wasn't quite right. I don't know how he got into the army."

"It figures." Soames grinned and got up.

"Oh, you're a sight!" Mama said, patting him on the seat of his jeans. "My goodness, we forgot to heat dishwater."

So ended the symposium on neighborhood violence. We pulled ourselves up from the table, all of us stupefied with food. We had dined on roast tenderloin, peas in pure cream, sliced green tomatoes browned in butter, and burnt-sugar cake for dessert. My mother set a country table, and dinner was at noon.

The Moonflower Vine. Copyright © by Jetta Carleton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Jetta Carleton (1913–1999) was born in Holden, Missouri, and earned a master’s degree at the University of Missouri. She worked as a schoolteacher, a radio copywriter in Kansas City, and a television advertising copywriter in New York City, and she ran a small publishing house with her husband in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Moonflower Vine is her only published novel.

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Moonflower Vine 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 60 reviews.
Dylan111 More than 1 year ago
As an English teacher I received several Barnes and Noble gift cards, so I used one of them to take chance on a novel I knew nothing about: "The Moonflower Vine." And am I glad that I did!! I just finished reading it about two hours ago, and I already miss the characters, the members of the Soames family that form the core of this wonderful story. This is a rare book in that you cannot put it down because the story is so interesting (and often surprising), told from the points of view of six family members, but it is also so beautifully written. The language is just lovely; in fact, I think you could take many of Jetta Carleton paragraphs and make them into a stanza of poetry. If you love great fiction, I highly recommend this book. You will love it.
KatSNY More than 1 year ago
In the 1950's in rural mid-west landscape, a story unfolds of a seemingly simple and idylic family. The backstory however, is anything but simple or idylic. The characters are complex. Some are even difficult to like. But some will totally captivate you. This book is well written and engaging. It is a shame that it was the only novel that Jetta Carleton wrote.
su-z-q More than 1 year ago
I accidentally happened upon this book and the cover captured my interest. Behind that beautiful cover I found a story of a simple country family as the travel through their lives. Different individuals with different dreams and hopes but their commonality was their love and respect for each other. !This was a terrific book which was so pleasant to read.The dialect is quirky and fun and the story is well developed. It was fascinating and thought provoking to view a family's journey through each of their different eyes.Time well invested!
RaeStar More than 1 year ago
This book is a wonderful family saga with twists and turns and many secrets. I found myself living in the book and becoming part of the family's daily living and story. The author captures the time in which the story is set beautifully. The stories of the individual members of the family help pull the tale together and create understanding for the reader. I found myself asking for more after each character's chapter, but the author gives us just enough of a glimpse into their hearts to carry us on to the next one. I enjoyed this book tremendously and experienced laughter and tears in the journey from the first page to the last. I believe this would be a good choice for book clubs as well as the recreational reader.
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Good read love one man
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That prophecy sounds like a poem...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book five? Book 7
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this book started out to be a slow, ho-hum read, it quickly picked up steam and became very engrossing. I found myself reading until midnight---just one more chapter!!!! There were quite a few similarities between the book's family and mine.
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I like the story of this family is told byeach member, but throughout the different stages of their lives. The characters were easy to like.
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byrdlover More than 1 year ago
Not as good as I expected. I was disapointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No crime to solve, no mystery to unravel, no villains to defeat - just an enjoyable "slice of [real] life" novel where the characters are the story. Engrossing, hard to put down. Well worth the read.
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A satisfying and well written novel that proves no one is perfect. It was recommended to me by a friend...I would definitely recommend it to my other friends.
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