Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Moonflower Vine

I first noticed The Moonflower Vine a couple of years ago being promoted as a "rediscovered classic" on bookstore tables. The fact that it's a multi-generational family saga piqued my interest, but it was the author's interesting background that really earned it a place on my To Read list. In between being born in the Midwest and then setting up a small publishing house in New Mexico, Jetta Carleton actually lived in Hoboken and worked as an advertising copywriter during the early half of the 20th century. The Moonflower Vine was her only published novel and I was intrigued to see if the story would mirror her own interesting life.

Divided into sections, the novel is told from the points of view of each member of the Soames family--a school superintendent in rural Missouri, his feisty but uneducated wife, and their four daughters. I was disappointed to find that I just couldn't warm up to any of them, a fact that I think may have a lot to do with the structure of the story itself. Youngest daughter Mary Jo, who seems the most likable and interesting, narrates the introductory section then all but disappears as subsequent sections flash back to the years before her birth. Matthew, the hypocritically virtuous father, seems to overtake every section of the book, even those that are meant to be told from his daughters' points of view. It's true that he was a strong influence in their lives, but his perspective was emphasized to the point that, more often than not, it felt like his story, not the story of the family as a whole, which wasn't exactly what I thought I was signing up for.

I don't want to come across as too negative. The story did have its moments, including some particularly poignant passages near the end as the family's aging matriarch reflects back on her life. I just couldn't get past my apathy for the characters. It's the same problem I've had in the past with Steinbeck characters. Does this mean I'm prejudiced against rural Midwestern farmers from the 1920's? Do you have that problem with any authors?

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha ha! You know, consider me a heretic but I'm not a Steinbeck fan either.



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