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Correction to This Article
The book review incorrectly indicated that the manuscript of Jetta Carleton's second novel was destroyed by a tornado. An unpublished manuscript by Carleton has been found.
A Second Life for a Forgotten Family Saga from the 1960s

By Nora Krug
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

THE MOONFLOWER VINE

By Jetta Carleton

Harper Perennial. 318 pp. $14.99

It's hard to say which is more surprising: that Jetta Carleton's "The Moonflower Vine" is her first novel, that it's her only published novel -- or that it's essentially been forgotten. When it first came out, in 1962, the book was a critical success and a bestseller. Yet this sweeping family drama set in rural Missouri in the early part of the 20th century might have remained a collector's item were it not for the devotion of its fans, among them Jane Smiley, who included it in her list of 100 classic novels in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel" (2005). She has now written the introduction to this new paperback edition.

The story of the Soames family -- a God-fearing Methodist clan of four daughters, a stern but fallible father and a dutiful if equally fallible mother -- is essentially one about the struggle between desire and virtue. The family appears to enjoy a wholesome lifestyle in which a day might center on an excursion to smoke out honeybees or marvel at the moonflowers of the title, but yearnings lurk (though in a virtuous way; one character is seduced after reading Bible verses). Among the great pleasures of the novel is watching this chaste image unravel; the other is the writing, which captures both the beauty of the natural world and the complexities of human emotion. "Riding toward the chapel" to place a headstone, one character thinks "of the lonely silence of the graveyard, the long grass sighing, the moaning of wind in the cedars."

Carleton, a teacher, advertising copywriter and book publisher who died in 1999, had worked on a second novel, but, unfortunately, the manuscript was lost in a vortex more deadly than the publishing industry: a tornado.

Also of Interest

Most arguments about the dangers of the Internet focus on breaches of personal security and privacy. But in "The Future of the Internet -- and How to Stop It" (Yale, $17), Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain focuses on devices like iPhones and BlackBerrys, which are "built to allow no one but the vendor to change them" and could thereby compromise the Internet's openness. In this scholarly work, Zittrain warns that without new approaches we face "a Hobson's choice between fear and lockdown."

Published to coincide with the second anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's death, the paperback edition of "Armageddon in Retrospect" (Berkley, $15) brings together a range of work by the acclaimed humorist, all on the subject of war: lectures, short stories, drawings, even a letter home written when Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in Germany.

Tahir Shah, author of "The Caliph's House" returns to Morocco in his travelogue "In Arabian Nights" (Bantam, $15), a tour of the country that mixes his own experiences with the ancient tales that informed his youth.

From Our Previous Reviews

-- A self-pitying, lovelorn English teacher on holiday in Ireland finds himself unwittingly embroiled in an unsolved mystery when an errant pig unearths a body in "The Pig Did It" (Delphinium, $13.95). Ron Charles called the novel, the first in a planned trilogy by playwright Joseph Caldwell, "a macabre comedy." (The second volume, "The Pig Comes to Dinner," has just been published in hardback.)

-- Reading at times like "an absurdist farce," "Sneaker Wars" (Ecco, $15.99), Barbara Smit's "tale of athletic apparel, villainy and comeuppance," delves "deep into the fraternal divide that resulted in the ubiquitous sports brands of Adidas and Puma," wrote Colin Fleming.

-- Ida B. Wells, a little-known late-19th-century African American journalist who spoke out publicly -- and at great risk -- against lynching, is given long-overdue recognition in Paula J. Giddings's "definitive biography," "Ida" (Amistad, $19.99), according to Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.

-- Eric Foner wrote that Washington Post writer Charles Lane tells the "gripping" story of the Colfax massacre, an April 1873 attack by former Confederate soldiers on a group of blacks in Colfax, La., and its judicial repercussions in "The Day Freedom Died" (Holt, $17).

-- "McMafia" (Vintage, $16.95) by journalist Misha Glenny offers an "informative and more than slightly scary" examination of the globalization of organized crime, noted Jonathan Yardley.

-- In "Shakespeare's Wife" (Harper Perennial, $14.99), Germaine Greer sets out to rescue Ann Hathaway's reputation and "propose a much more significant and important life for her," noted Elaine Showalter, who praised the book's "fierce rebuttals of the most august Shakespearian scholars."

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