cover image The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

Jenny Wingfield. Random, $25 (328p) ISBN 978-0-385-34408-1

Set in 1950s Arkansas, screenwriter Wingfield's restrained, sometimes dark debut novel tells the story of preacher Samuel Lake and his family and how they are all affected by their move back to his wife Willadee's hometown. After Willadee's father kills himself and Samuel finds out that there's no church post waiting for him in Louisiana, the Lakes' decide to stay with Willadee's mother, Calla, on the farm in Arkansas and help out with the family store. Samuel's gorgeous but delusional sister-in-law (who's also his former fianc%C3%A9e) Bernice, is delighted: she only meant to teach Samuel a lesson by marrying Willadee's brother, Toy, a decent guy who came home from the war and killed Bernice's lover with his bare hands. Toy fruitlessly hopes to regain his wife's affections, but he's gladdened by the presence of the three Lake children: Bienville, 9; Swan, 11; and particularly Noble, 12, whom he takes under his wing after an encounter with school bullies. Swan, meanwhile, befriends the neighbors' abused son, Blade, and the children witness a horrible scene in which Blade is disfigured by his violent father, Ras, who also reveals his sadism with the horses he trains for a living. Wingfield writes complex, believable heroes, although her villains are straight from central casting, but the writing is good and the story well done, with redemption trumping tragedy in scenes ripe with tension and dread. (July)