Michael Morris' career as an author is building slowly but steadily. His novels A Place Like Wiregrass and Slow Way Home have helped him amass a strong fan base, but he still considered to some extent to be a regional author. He is a southerner through and through and his stories reflect his heritage.
Morris' latest novel is Man in the Blue Moon, a slow and easy reading tale of a woman living in Dead Lakes, Florida in the early 1900's. Ella Wallace married a man of whom her family did not approve and now she is paying the price. After bearing him three children Ella has been deserted by Harlan and is trying to make it on her own. Times are hard and she is barely making it day by day. She operates a general store but it is hardly paying her any profits.
A mysterious stranger named Lanier enters her life. He claims he is a cousin of Harlan's and he wants to stick around and help Ella. Out of desperation she allows him to do so, but Dead Lakes is a small community and the curiosity about Lanier and Ella's relationship is soon the talk of the town.
There is a point to Morris' plot but it takes quite a while for it to be fully explained. As a writer, Morris seems content to detail the personalities of his characters, and to create a portrait of the landscape in which his characters live. This makes for a book full of visible people and authentic surroundings.
There are a variety of plot points taking place in the story. There is the struggle of Ella to provide for her family and to keep the evil banker in town from ruining her life. There is the mystery man, Lanier, and his strange powers of healing that amaze and confound the townspeople. There are the illnesses that come to the town and threaten to obliterate the population. Each of these plot lines helps create the overall impression of the town, its inhabitants and the surrounding world. This is where Morris excels. He knows this place and these people and he lets his words introduce them to the reader.
It is hard to call Man in the Blue Moon a page turner. It has a more languid feel to the flow of the story. The events take place as though they were floating by on his river of words and the currents are soft and gentle. Creatively this is a plus for this type of story.
If you are a fan of southern writing then this is a must read book for you. It has the atmosphere of the South in its descriptions of place, and it has the defining characteristics and attitudes of the characters which are truly southern. You only get this combination of a defined place and a recognizable people "once in a blue moon."
Man in the Blue Moon is published by Tyndale House. It contains 400 pages and sells for $19.99.
Jackie K Cooper