Movie viewers who remember the 1991 tearjerker The Man in the Moon know what to expect from screenwriter Wingfield’s first novel, a rural Christian heart-warmer set in 1956 southern Arkansas.
When he loses his latest pulpit, idealistic Methodist preacher Samuel Lake, his lovingly pragmatic wife Willadee and their three spunky kids move in with Willadee’s newly widowed mother Calla Moses on what used to be the family farm. Now Calla runs a grocery store on the front porch. Willadee’s brother Toy, a war hero who lost his leg saving a “Negro” soldier, has taken over the all-night bar Willadee’s father opened on the back porch before he committed suicide. Years ago, Toy killed the man he caught messing with his wife Bernice on the very night he came home from overseas. Everyone in town knows he did it, but the sympathetic local police never brought charges. Ironically, Bernice is still not so secretly in love with her one-time fiancé Samuel and hopes to steal him back from Willadee. Meanwhile, almost-12-year-old Swan Lake—her name’s ha-ha quality is frequently referred to but never explained—quickly gets into various scrapes with her brothers. Soon she becomes the angel/idol of little Blade Ballenger, whose sadistic, perverted father Ras is the evil counterpoint to the two versions of saintly goodness exemplified by Samuel, rigidly devout but never rigid, and Toy, a gentle warrior who protects those he loves at any cost. The early chapters’ high spirits darken when Ras knocks out Blade’s eye with a horse whip while beating him. Soon Blade is living at the Moses house under Toy’s particular protection, Ras is plotting vengeance, and the Lake marriage is in trouble thanks to a subtle nudge from Bernice. Expect not only rape but also kitten murder. Wingfield’s film experience shows in her flair for dialogue. But the simplistic division between good and evil characters and her apparent approval of righteous killing going unpunished may trouble some readers.
Hefty helpings of corn-pone charm become leaden with down-home sanctimony.