05 November 2012

Review: Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

On the edge of a cypress swamp in Dead Lakes, Florida, Ella Wallace comes one day closer to losing her land. If only she had listened to her aunt's warnings about gambler, charmer Harlin Wallace. If only she hadn't given up her dream of studying painting. But it's too late now to look back: she has a general store to run 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.

Man in the Blue Moon is the She Reads book club selection for November. To see what other club members thought of the book, to enter a great giveaway, and to join the conversation, visit the She Reads website.

Buy Man in the Blue Moon at an Indie or at a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
Published by Tyndale House, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781414368429
Rating: B+
Source: review (see review policy)
t © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Hillary 11/5/12, 7:49 AM  

This sounds like a great book. I love books that explore issues. I will add this to my to read pile.

Daryl 11/5/12, 9:06 AM  

very intriguing ... thanks as always for the review

bermudaonion 11/5/12, 9:08 AM  

I'm just getting started with this one and, so far, I like Ella's fiery spirit.

bookspersonally 11/5/12, 9:25 AM  

Just saw this one on the Deep South Magazine reading list - sounds wonderfully intriguing. Love the idea of the narrators' competing versions of truth, promises a thought provoking read!

Sandy Nawrot 11/5/12, 10:39 AM  

So far I am loving the Southern element, and the fact that it takes place in one of my favorite places on earth...Apalachicola. I just said this over at Jennifer's, but there are places mentioned in this book that are still in existence.

Zibilee 11/5/12, 11:49 AM  

This book sounds like something that I would adore! It has a lot of flavor it seems, and the characters really sound well rounded. I also like that there is so much going on in the story, and so many themes and arcs. I am going to be looking for this one. Thanks for the excellent and very potent review today!

Julie P. 11/5/12, 3:06 PM  

I had a somewhat different reaction to this novel than you did. I couldn't get into it and didn't relate to the characters. Review is coming tomorrow.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice 11/5/12, 7:46 PM  

Yes. Granted, I'm a sucker for any well-written novel set in the bygone days of the Deep South, but your review is spot on. Love your description of Ella as "smoldering."

bibliophiliac 11/5/12, 9:28 PM  

I love character-driven fiction, and this one sounds intriguing. I also tend to like books set in the South, where I accidentally landed (and I have stayed for more than twenty years).

Tea 11/6/12, 9:58 AM  

Oh my goodness, I've been out of the loop. Thursday Next with children is such a shock to me. Would love to read this one and catch up with the pass books.

Tea 11/6/12, 9:59 AM  

Whoops, put my comment under Man in the Blue Moon. I'm sorry.

The Readdicts 11/6/12, 10:28 AM  

This sounds like a great and interesting read. I hadn't heard of it before, so thanks for sharing, I'm off to check out the book!
Great review! :D

Sarika @ The Readdicts

Jaime Boler 11/6/12, 5:39 PM  

I love how you discuss the townspeople's fears of people who are different. Very nice review.

Cynthia Robertson 11/6/12, 10:14 PM  

Wonderful review, Beth. I enjoyed this book too. It's fun to see how each of us has a slightly different take on it!

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