Review: The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton

Tara read this book late last year, and she said she was shocked by the turns the book took, which, y’all, if you are ever trying to convince me to read a book?  Shocked is a good adjective to use.  Family saga will get you nowhere.  I cannot at present think of any family sagas I have read and disliked (or any I have read and liked, actually), but I have conceived a violent prejudice against them.  In this case, Tara said both shocked and family saga, and shocked won out.  Sometimes that happens.

And now that shocked no longer looks like a word to me, I will proceed.  The Moonflower Vine opens with an idyllic family reunion over several summer evenings in Missouri.  Matthew and Callie’s three grown daughters – Jessica and Leonie, and the much-younger Mary Jo – have come home for a vacation, and at night they come together and watch the moonflowers blossom.  It is all very loving and affectionate, and Mary Jo thinks that she will remember this time forever.

Shocking flashbacks ensue.  We learn about the family’s past from the perspective of each of the family members.  The focus of each section was – more or less – the romantic life of the viewpoint character for that section, and how it affected the rest of the family.  We see how they caused each other pain, and how they helped each other.  We see Mathy, the emotional and physical center of the book, how the family spins around her and how they manage without her.  (That’s not a spoiler – it’s clear from the beginning that Mathy’s gone.)

Okay, the flashbacks aren’t all that shocking.  I mean they aren’t Forever Amber shocking, or even The Group shocking – they’re good flashbacks because they create a solid, layered, complex family dynamic.  They’re good flashbacks because they cause the story to unfold in a way that I like: starting with the end, and gradually revealing how they got there.  The Moonflower Vine is a beautifully constructed, beautifully told story.

How do you like your plot twists?  Gentle and inevitable (as here!) or punch you in the stomach (like Fingersmith)?

Other reviews:

Books and Cooks
Killin’  Time Reading
Neglected Books Page

If I missed your review, let me know!

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16 thoughts on “Review: The Moonflower Vine, Jetta Carleton

  1. 😉

    I’m glad you like this! I haven’t read the books you mentioned as being shocking, but in this case the events shocked me because a. I was not expecting them AT ALL, and b. for the time period in which this was written.

    As you put it so well, they are good flashbacks that create a multilayered story.

    • It is a library book, but I, um, sort of returned it already. I’m sorry! I always return the books you want! If I go to the library again I’ll grab it for you.

  2. I’ll never forget the shock I got in the twist of Fingersmith. Like you said, it was a punch in the stomach, jump out of your seat type of shock! I certainly don’t mind those and it really helps make a book memorable.
    I’ve never heard of the Moonflower Vine. It sounds intriguing. I’ll definitely check it out!

    • I can’t take shocks like that! I like to read the end, and then I can pick up on the little clues and foreshadowings as I go. Fingersmith is such a great book, but it was a bit much for me the first time through – you know, reading the end of that one doesn’t tell you ANYTHING.

    • Well, if you like shocking plot twists, Fingersmith is the book for you! It’s beautifully written as well – Sarah Waters is one of my most favorite writers.

  3. Honestly, family saga puts me to sleep nowadays, but considering the fact that you’ve written such a glowing review, I will keep an eye out for this one. I’m reading Fingersmith right now, and I agree, the plot twists are really shocking and awesome. I don’t mind gradually unfolding shockers, though!

    • If it makes you feel any better about it family-saga-wise, The Moonflower Vine is not multigenerational. That’s really a killer for me with “family sagas”, when it’s stories about multiple generations of the same family. I start to get interested in a character and s/he is snatched away from me and replaced with a boring descendant!

      I’m glad you’re enjoying Fingersmith! Looking forward to your review – I am always happy to see Sarah Waters get some loving. 🙂

  4. I admit to liking the punch-in-the-stomach variety of plot twists. If something is inevitable, can it really be considered a twist? Still, this sounds like a good book.

    • Oh, right, I suppose “twist” might not have been the right word. I guess I meant reveals, it can be nice when the whole of a book has built up to a reveal so that when it finally occurs, you think – well yeah, that makes total sense. I do like truly shocking plot twists, but only if I know they are coming. Otherwise, the gentler reveals are better for me.

  5. Pingback: Wenn die Mondblumen blühen « Literaturblog von Nomadenseele

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