In 2005, Jane Smiley published a book titled Thirteen Ways to Look at the Novel, in which she mentions the mostly-forgotten novel The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton. First published in 1962, this novel garnered lots of fans and critical acclaim at the time, then faded into obscurity. Now rediscovered and even mentioned on Oprah for goodness' sake, the book has seen a resurgence in popularity, leading to a papberback reprint this year.
The majority of the story takes place on the rural Missouri farm of the Soames family - Matthew, Callie and their four daughters. The story begins with an overview of the elderly couple, who are joined on the farm for a couple of weeks every summer by their daughters. Each character lends their point of view to a portion of the book, providing honest and straightforward insight into their lives and the lives of those around them. What at first appears to be an old-fashioned traditional family has a history at which few readers would guess.
While I found this book to be a lovely read, I hesitate to compare it to some other classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Invisible Man, as Smiley does. In this family drama, Carleton tackles some hot-button issues, particularly for the early '60's, but ideals which are still relevant today, such as religion, sexuality, and women's roles. The Soames family is every family, and Carleton does a marvelous job of reaching beyond the superficial into the very depth of this family - the obstacles, challenges, temptations and choices - that make them (and us) who we are.