Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake
Jenny Wingfield
Published by Random House Trade
352 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

When you are accustomed to living where the Lord sends you, the last place you might expect to wind up is home, sweet home. For Samuel Lake, a preacher whose style tends to put off his flock more than bring them to the light, home is what he hopes is a temporary locale. As the adage goes, however, we plan and God laughs.

Every year, on the first Saturday in June, the Moses family holds a reunion. Of John and Calla's three children, one son died in a tragic accident, one (Toy) lives on the family's 100-acre farm with his beautiful but terrible wife Bernice, and their daughter, Willadee, lives with her husband Samuel Lake and three children in whichever community Samuel is called to work. Willadee and the children come for the reunion, with Samuel due to follow.

The fun kicks off with a death in the family and continues apace. Told from different perspectives, this book really is like a warm summer day in the south: slowly getting hotter and stifling, with brief moments of respite provided by a nice glass of iced tea. One thing leads to another, leads to another, and pretty soon, you start to think that you're a member of the Moses family yourself.

When Samuel Lake does get to his family, they are distraught over the death and their need for him - for his comfort, if not his physical presence. No one feels the latter more than Willadee, and it quickly becomes clear that these two enjoy each other in the Biblical sense, much to the dismay of Bernice. You see, Bernice had her chance with Sam, all those years ago, but she played games with him, dumped him, and as he nursed his broken heart, he met Willadee. The fact that Bernice married Toy (out of spite and revenge) does not seem to have had its desired effect on Sam, because he is devoted to Willadee and his kids.

But things do not go as smoothly as Samuel Lake would like. There is the matter of him not finding a new pulpit, for one thing, and he suspects his wife and children hide things from him. He also wonders if they have lost respect for him; when Blade, the young son of an evil neighbor (a man described as Satan's stepson) escapes to the Moses home for some respite from his abusive father, Sam sends him back, horrifying his precocious eleven-year-old daughter Swan (yes, Swan Lake).

Sam repeatedly tries to save his family and meets with repeated frustration. At one point, he howls to the heavens, begging God for help. Sometimes, he fails to see that God answered his prayers, because God does not necessarily answer them as Samuel would like or expect. Other times, God responds quite clearly and emphatically.

There are several tragedies in this book, all of them heartbreaking. What will strike you as remarkable, however, is this family's determination to survive what assaults them. They all trust God, some more than others, and their faith in the Lord and themselves is something to behold. Each of them struggles against something, whether it's loss, failure or powerlessness.

Jenny Wingfield's voice pulls you into this book, and you will not be able to put it down. You will care for this family (most of them, anyway), and you will want to be sure that they are going to be okay. And when the book is over, you will miss the Moses family.

Read this. It's a very good book.

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