The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Published in 2012 by William Collins
My version: Hardback
It’s 1956 and Samuel Lake, a handsome preacher, is voted out of his ministry by yet another congregation, disappointed by his relentless pleas for them to live more charitable lives. Out of options and out of pocket, Samuel and his family are forced to move in with their Arkansas in-laws, the rambunctious Moses clan.
At first they thrive in the unruly sea of relatives – Willa, Samuel’s wife, runs the bar for Grandma Calla, while the boys, Noble and Bienville, run riot through the surrounding countryside. But when Swan, their formidable but loveable 11-year-old tomboy, crosses the path of neighbour Raz Ballenger, things take a turn for the worse.
This novel focuses on a big and fairly dysfunctional family. Grandma Calla runs a store out of the front of the house while Grandad John runs a bar at the back – and he enjoys a drink himself. When tragedy strikes, and daughter Willa moves back into the family home with her husband Samuel and their three children, the house is filled with noise and craziness. The children run free but family dramas continue around them – not least their aunt Bernice’s attempts to get Samuel to fall in love with her, right under her husband’s nose. But her husband has other worries too, having never quite recovered from his experiences during the war – and what he did when he returned.
But despite the general air of fun and craziness surrounding the family, the book often takes a much darker turn, particularly when they become embroiled in the lives of their next door neighbours. Although the book is often humorous, some of the sections involving the violent Raz are distressing and hard to read. The book builds up to a pretty horrible climax, and I found myself gripped at this point and desperate to know what would happen to this family that I found myself becoming increasingly engaged with with as I read the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a family drama with lots of humour thrown in. I loved the 1950s setting and the idea of this house in Arkansas with a shop at the front and a bar full of the local men at the back. There are plenty of family dramas and a range of interesting, complex characters.
But be warned that this isn’t a light and fluffy book at all and there are a lot of parts of the book that are quite upsetting. But for me this created a very readable and enjoyable novel, and a range of characters that will stay with me for a long time.