Jetta Carleton





Simon & Schuster, 1962
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

THE MOONFLOWER VINE opens in the early 1950's with the Soames family gathered on the family farm outside Renfro, Missouri, for their annual summer visit. Matthew Soames, a retired school teacher, and his wife, Callie, are enjoying the last days of summer with three of their daughters and one grandson. The opening scenes paint a touching portrait from the youngest daughter’s point of view, of rural life and family ties: strong ties that bring them home on their annual pilgrimage, but only hint at the secrets and sorrows that lie beneath. The last day of their visit coincides with the blooming of the moonflower vine, a flower that blooms only a few days each season at sunset. The moonflower vine symbolizes a silent tribute to their family history and the life changing events that have marked the Soames family. After a heartwarming introduction, the novel is divided into five sections, telling the individual stories and secrets of Jessica, Matthew, Mathy, Leonie and Callie.

Jessica, the firstborn, never lives up to her father's expectations. Her choices break her parent's hearts and demand a high toll from her. However Jessica proves she is strong enough to take what life has handed her and shape it into the life she wants.

Matthew lives a dual life his family never fully realizes. He's a scholarly man yearning to see the world outside his country farm roots, but bound by his tarnished honor to stay. His wife Callie intuitively understands, and has the grace to save Matthew from himself.

Mathy is the daughter named for her father and conceived of his anger. She is part tomboy and wild child yet never suspects her father thinks she was born to punish him for his sins. Perhaps God will give Matthew a second chance with Mathy's son, Peter.

Leonie, the beautiful, obedient daughter, falls in love with the one man her father would never give his daughter to. If Leonie is to find happiness, Matthew must be willing to give her his blessing.

Callie married a scholarly man yet never learns to read. Her daughters describe her as a proud woman with Victorian manners and country values. No one suspects the dark secret that haunts her.

Mary Jo Soames, a television producer from NYC, is the voice that introduces us. The baby of the family, she gives us our first impressions of the characters and homeplace. Mary Jo is most at contrast with her country roots, living in the big city and driving her red MG sports car, yet she remains a mystery. You only see her through brief remarks, and sketchy glimpses of her family. Mary Jo's secrets are never told.

Jetta Carleton's autobiographical novel captures the mood and times of midwestern rural life and brings it to life. From the idyllic, heartwarming beginnings springs dark and hidden truths; truths only the reader will see and know. The gentle revelations of the secrets, fears and heartaches that drive these wonderful and endearing characters is storytelling at its best. THE MOONFLOWER VINE received the International Book Award in 1963 and became a Readers Digest Condensed Book and Literary Guild selection. Author Jetta Carleton (1913-1999) only published one novel, putting her in a club with other unique woman writers like Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell. You might be wondering why anyone would bother to review an out of print book but it is for that reason it was chosen. Don't let the opportunity to read an endangered book slip away. Copies are still readily available online, some for less than the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee, to over $100.

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