My first exposure to Michael Morris and his latest book "Man in the Blue Moon" was at SIBA this past September. Michael was a featured speaker one morning at breakfast, and he quickly had the entire room under his spell. A good old Southern boy, he explained to us in his friendly, slow drawl that he wasn't even that great of a student growing up. He just loved to tell a good tale. The premise of this book, about a man that arrives hidden in a crate intended to hold a clock, was one told by his grandfather. The fact that the story takes places in Apalachicola FL, one of my favorite places on earth? A place I have visited at least a dozen times? Well, I just had to find time to slip this one into my reading agenda.
I was incredibly pleased, then, when I heard it was the She Read selection for November. Sometimes that is exactly what it takes to ensure I am able to read a book!
Synopsis: Ella Wallace and her three sons are just managing to scrape by. While the rest of the US fights its battles in World War I, she is focused on keeping her land out of foreclosure, the debt a little "gift" left to her when her drug-addicted gambler husband abandoned them. But the local banker has a score to settle, and seems determined to ruin them.
Then a stranger arrives...in a crate Ella THOUGHT was to contain a clock from the Blue Moon Company. The man claims to be Ella's husband's cousin, and he brings with him a story of a scandal and murder in Georgia. And he prefers to lay low. Ella distrusts the guy, but when he volunteers to help her cut timber from her land to pay off the bank, she delays the decision to send him on his way temporarily. But the man begins to charm Ella and her boys, and there is also this special gift he has that cannot be explained...
With a satisfying mixture of raw characters, the syrupy-rich atmosphere of the undeveloped South, blanketed in faith and mystery, Morris weaves a tale that will not soon be forgotten.
My thoughts: I'm not sure if I qualify as a Southerner. But I've lived in Florida since 1991, so I certainly FEEL like one, and I gravitate towards books that celebrate everything I love about the South...particularly Old Florida. I have had a love affair with Apalachicola and St. George Island since my first visit up there 12 years ago. I was thrilled that my little corner of heaven was the location of all the action in this book.
And even though the story took place in WWI, I recognized some of the landmarks. One of the restaurants mentioned, the Owl Cafe, is still there today! I felt as if I were back there. Morris does an excellent job of bringing this familiar place to life on the page.
The characters were extremely well-drawn. Ella was a strong woman, a momma bear willing to do anything to protect her kids, and willing to work hard to save her property. Her sons were not token figures in the story either...they got their piss and vinegar from their mother. Morris also draws a complex web of small town pettiness, gossip and hidden agendas...sometimes it is comical and sometimes it is a nasty business.
There is an element of religion and faith in the story, but nothing more than you would expect to find in a small Southern town. Even though I am a religious person, I rarely enjoy too much of it in my fiction. But this was really a wonderful touch, what the author created. Magical and beautiful. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
It did take me longer to read than it should have. Perhaps the action was slow in ramping up, or it took me some time to invest in the characters. I'm not completely sure. But ultimately, it was a very satisfying read.
4 out of 5 stars