Book Review: Man in the Blue Moon

On an edge of the cypress swamp in Dead Lakes, Florida, Ella Wallace every day is coming closer to losing her land.  She should have listened to her aunt's warnings about that man the gambler, the charmer Harlin Wallace. If only she hadn't given up her dream of studying painting (because painting can take you places). Now though  it's too late to look back: she has a store to run, a general store,  and three boys raise. Harlin ran off to devote himself to his true love, opium.

Whether it's Narissa, a Creek Indian, who came looking for temporary work six years earlier, or the stranger Lanier Stillis, who paid to have himself shipped to the store, Ella has a way of getting help when she needs it. But what's the cost of being one of her saviors?

Set in the Florida panhandle in the closing months of World War I, Man in the Blue Moon is, in a general sense, a story of class divisions in the Deep South. The overriding plot is Ella's determination to hold on to the land that's been in her family for generations, land her husband mortgaged to pay for his gambling and drugs. Greed and jealousy drive the local banker to do whatever is necessary to make sure Ella forfeits on the loan and is thrown out of her home.

The novel is, however, much more complicated than that and has at least two other principal story arcs. In addition, Michael Morris's characters have their own versions of reality, leaving the reader to wonder just who is telling the truth. This is especially the case with Lanier. Is he the good man he claims to be, or is he just as worthless as his cousin Harlin? And, come to think of it, is there any reason to believe he's really who he says he is?

Although the action in Man in the Blue Moon is often intense, it's the characters that draw the reader into the story. Each person in Ella's life is easy to envision. For instance, we sympathize with the embittered spinster schoolteacher who no longer understands Ella, her girlhood friend, and we're shocked at how some of the townsfolk treat Ruby, the mentally disabled daughter of a widower who drinks too much. And then there's Ella herself, a complex woman whose potential and dreams, although trampled by circumstances, still smolder in a deep corner of her being. 

Other major themes in Man in the Blue Moon are faith, hope, friendship, family, and prejudice. In particular, Morris examines several styles of spirituality and upholders of the faith, including a local reverend, an evangelist, and a faith healer. Although these characters are somewhat stereotypical (the evangelist comes across as greedy and ultra conservative), Morris uses them to talk about broader issues, especially intolerance.

Michael Morris's latest novel is an intimate look at small-town Southern life of a century ago. This is not a nostalgic story, but a masterfully constructed tale of a family in crisis and a town blinded by local history and the fear of those who are different.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...