Monday, September 10, 2012

The Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris

Years before Ella put aside all chances for a genteel lady’s life and perhaps even an art education to marry Harlan, a mystery man who had charmed both Ella and her best friend Neva. Quickly Ella’s life turned to one of babies and debt darkened by a drunken, gambling husband. When drunkenness and gambling give way to an opium habit, Harlan just leaves. With three sons, one of whom is extremely ill, Ella barely can keep their little general store open, let alone make the next payment on the mortgage – a mortgage Harlan had taken out without her knowledge to cover a gambling debt. When word comes that there is a shipment from a clock company at the dock, Ella hopes that it might be grandfather clock sent by Harlan, a clock that she can sell and make a payment to the bank. She realizes it is a foolish hope, but since all indications are that the shipment has been paid for, Ella and her boys make the trip to the dock for the box. One review I read compared author Michael Morris’s story to Mark Twain’s stories of the south. There are some similarities. First, when Ella and family open the box to find not a clock, but a dirty, silent man, it seemed just the kind of surprise that Twain would subject his readers and Huck to. After Ella learns the man’s story and allows Lanier to stay, we really remain uneasy about the stranger throughout most of the book. Morris, like Twain, will let Lanier’s actions speak for him. He appears to have the gift of healing, but a murder and a dark past follow him into the Apalachicola, Florida town. The town will be split as to where his gift comes from. The supporting characters in this book are a sign of quality writing. From his first appearance, you will mistrust and dislike the banker. Little by little, the author reveals the man’s devious hold on the city and many of its residents. When the “famous” preacher Brother Mabry and his wife hit town ready to proclaim the Apalachicola River as the original Garden of Eden and the little springs on Ella’s land (soon to be the banker’s land) as a healing miracle, I couldn’t help but think of the characters Huck met on the Mississippi River. Despite some surface comparisons to Twain, Morris’s story is a much different one. Yes, there is apparent hypocrisy and it is evident that the poorest and weakest in this story are also the noblest and most loyal. But The Man in the Blue Moon is frankly told and with that greed and hatred comes a stronger story of violence than any Twain book. In the end, I liked this book. It is definitely a book that could be read by both men and women. It was published by Tyndale, but it does not fit an easy categorization. You really have to stop and think to recognize the Christian themes of weak being mighty and the mighty being weak and others. For a while I was unsure what Morris was trying to show with Lanier’s healing powers, but I was satisfied with how the story unfolded. I especially liked the backdrop setting of World War I America and the American South. To anyone who does read this book, make sure you read the comment by the author at the end when he talks about the “old story” in his family about a man in a box being shipped to distant family – it makes the book even better. Sometimes when I read books for review purposes I begin to think I am reading “formula” stories. This title surely will never be described as that!
Along with my recommendation that you read Michael Morris's new book, I also suggest that you stop in at his website to see other titles he has written. I am really impressed with the topics he has chosen to write about.
I received an ecopy of this book for review purposes from NetGalley and Tyndale Publishers. All opinions are my own.

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