Ella Wallace is sinking faster than a brick-bound body in a Florida swamp. Her opium-addicted husband, Harlan, ran off leaving her with three boys to raise, a county store to run, and a second mortgage she didn’t sign for and can’t pay. This is no great surprise to many townsfolk in the panhandle town of Dead Springs; they’d been waiting for her fall since she threw away her chance to study art in Europe and made that charming scoundrel her husband.
There’s something special about Ella’s land, the only thing she has left from a family long gone. The unscrupulous banker who holds the mortgage thinks so, too. There’s an old spring bubbling up on the back of her property, and the local Indians believe it may have some special healing properties. Enter a big time evangelist itching to build a retreat to help heal his sickly, wealthy wife. Some men will do anything to make a hearty profit in a hardscrabble town.
On the verge of financial and emotional collapse, Ella gambles on a special delivery her husband arranged before going AWOL, and sets of a chain of events testing her faith in everything she’d ever known. When the mysterious Lanier Stillis, claiming to be her husbands relation, suddenly appears on the scene, no one quite knows quite what to do with him. Women on their own don’t take in strange men, especially when those men are on the run and tainted or blessed with some peculiar powers. But Ella needs any break she can get, and with Lanier’s help she fights to save her family and her land.
As a native Floridian, I gravitate towards any book set in this colorful, often corruptible state. Dead Springs, set just outside the then busy port town Apalachicola, exemplifies Old Florida. It’s Southern to the core, filled with honest folks, scoundrels, and those just scraping by working the soggy land.
Setting is often a character. In Man in the Blue Moon, Morris intimately captures the languid sway of Spanish moss in a breath of breeze, the sodden weariness after working in the brutal heat of a late-summer day, the complex organic scent of a cypress swamp after a storm. He puts you there.
Southern fiction has a tendency to move slowly, yet Morris manages to propel the reader on currents of suspense, drama, and some curious elements of mysticism. While some characters at first exemplify the archetypes of the time (the no-good husband, single schoolmarm, small-minded sheriff), Morris rounds them out and captures their weariness and hopes as they rebel against circumstance. And I couldn’t help rooting for the tenacious Ella, a strong mother fighting for what is hers, on a quest to banish the snakes from her Eden.
Man in the Blue Moon is a beautifully rendered a turn of the century tale, vivid in colors and contrasts, so rich you feel as your sitting around a campfire fire listening to a master storyteller spin a yarn.
Southern Grit Lit at its finest. Read it.
Man in the Blue Moon is the November She Reads Book Club selection. If you’d like to win a signed copy of the novel or a “blue moon” necklace head over and comment or join in the book club conversation. For more about Michael Morris, links to other blogger’s reviews of the book, or suggestions for other great reads visit SheReads.org.
*I received this book courtesy of Tyndal House Publishers and the She Reads Blogger Network. All opinions are my own.