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The Moonflower Vine

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  3,355 Ratings  ·  588 Reviews

A timeless American classic rediscovered—an unforgettable saga of a heartland family

On a farm in western Missouri during the first half of the twentieth century, Matthew and Callie Soames create a life for themselves and raise four headstrong daughters. Jessica will break their hearts. Leonie will fall in love with the wrong man. Mary Jo will escape to New York. And

Paperback, 343 pages
Published December 1st 1984 by Bantam Books (first published 1962)
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Rayette It is a clean read. I usually only read clean ones. Sorry I didn't answer earlier. There is the hint of things the 50's style where you…moreIt is a clean read. I usually only read clean ones. Sorry I didn't answer earlier. There is the hint of things the 50's style where you get the point but don't have to read about it.(less)

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May 31, 2016 Melki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The farm was a little island in a sea of summer.

Damn, this was good!

I usually snort at female centric novels like this one, those family sagas that span decades, and have a lot of kissing and man/woman stuff, but once again - DAMN! This was GOOD!

You can read the Goodreads description or some of the reviews if you want more of a blow-by-blow description. This one is exceptional -
Here's why I think this book should be on your to-read list.

Carleton's writi
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Much has been written about The Moonflower Vine because it's been around for many years. I recommend avoiding the commentaries until after you've read the book. It would have considerably diminished my enjoyment of the book if I'd read the summaries and assessments beforehand.

What is wrong with these people that they think it's okay to spoil the secrets? If I were you I wouldn't even read the Foreword by Jane Smiley. Better to go in without any preconceived ideas about what's coming.

This story
Brian Melendez
Jun 30, 2013 Brian Melendez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have re-read this book probably more often than any other book in my adult life. The story unfolds in rural Missouri over the first two-thirds of the 20th century, but its themes and its allure are timeless: family, faith, rebellion, secrets, love, independence, and time. Matthew and Callie Soames raise four daughters: Jessica, Leonie, Mary Jo, and Mathy. The book tells their stories one lifetime at a time, starting with the oldest daughter, Jessica, who introduces us to her parents and ...more
Rosina Lippi
Jan 16, 2010 Rosina Lippi rated it it was amazing
I first read this novel in 1974 when I was 18, and I have read it every year since. Before it was rediscovered and reprinted, I bought every used copy I could find and gave them away, sometimes as many as six a year. Everyone who reads it is immediately drawn in, because it is a perfectly balanced, beautifully structured story about people you don't know, but wish you did. Each of the Soames family members is drawn so clearly, and with such a distinct voice, you can hear them talking.

The end of
Katherine Stewart
May 29, 2012 Katherine Stewart rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, favorites
When I was a little girl, I would watch things like figure skating, baseball, and gymnastics and think, "wow, I can do that. It looks so easy!" My mom would always comment, "it looks easy because they are so good at what they do." That is how I feel about this book. This is an unassuming novel, that is elegant in its seeming simplicity and hushed atmosphere. However, when look deeper, you realize that this is a masterpiece of writing and it is not simple in the least.

It isn't until you are fini
Jun 07, 2009 Melissa rated it it was amazing
After 20 years of obscurity, The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carelton, was re-issued recently after author Jane Smiley cited it as one of 100 great novels in her book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel.

Why this book ceased to hold the interest of readers is a mystery. I loved this book. It was reminiscent of Cold Sassy Tree or To Kill a Mockingbird, with its rural setting and cast of familial characters. The tale of the Soames family spans 60 years beginning at the turn of the 20th century. They
Aug 22, 2014 Jeanette rated it it was amazing
Moonflower Vine is the only published novel of Jetta Carleton.

This I can understand, because how can you improve on perfection.

The Soames family saga in rural Western Missouri circa 1890-1950 is priceless in more than a few categories. Human psychology, geography, cycles of agriculture, farm mode in a time of no electricity or indoor plumbing, family dynamics and of course, economic class interchange. 5 star in every single one of those, and a 6 for the prose. The husband is a schoolteacher and
Aug 20, 2015 Vicki rated it liked it
I couldn't help making comparisons the whole time I was reading this to Little Women, although I liked this book more. The characters were dynamic and three-dimensional and I liked the approach of delving into the family members one-at-a-time. If I consider this a classic (as some people do), I loved it. If I compare it to other books I'm reading these days, it was still a great character study, but the it lacked some oomph. As a minor critique, I thought the section on Callie did not do her ...more
This novel was a reading group pick and I loved it. It is completely American heartland family fiction with feisty daughters, a dad who is imperfect, and a long-suffering but wise mother.

The writing is wonderful and fits the story perfectly. It reminded me of Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows in the way it investigates the flaws of each family member. While it might feel old fashioned to a young woman reading it today, being set in the first half of the 20th century, I think Jetta Carleton
Jun 20, 2011 Karen rated it it was amazing
The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carlson, originally published in 1962, is an old favorite my sister and I discovered years ago. I liked it so much, I bought my own hardcopy (the original being my sister's), as well as a beat up paperback to carry in my beach bag. It is the story of four sisters and their parents, and how life bends and shapes them through the years. I originally thought of my grandmother and my mother's aunts the first time I read the book, that this is what it must have been like ...more
Ruth Turner
Oct 05, 2014 Ruth Turner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: small-town-usa

Absolutely perfect!

Mar 06, 2013 Karyl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I admit I am a sucker for books set in an era long past, and even moreso for books detailing a family saga. There is nothing I love better than to watch a family grow and change through the years. And The Moonflower Vine certainly delivers. What makes this novel so interesting is that it begins at the end, when the Soames girls are all grown, home for a couple of weeks in the summer to visit their parents Matthew and Callie. The first chapter is told by the youngest daughter, Mary Jo, born when ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Kristen rated it really liked it
This book started off as a sleepy little family tale, then flourished into an epic of the Soames family in Missouri. Each character had their own part of the saga to tell - from Matthew's indiscretions to Jessica's first love - and each of the stories was interwoven with the others in such a way as to make these characters real and flawed and their stories heartbreaking and triumphant. Once I started getting into the story, I could not put this book down.
May 09, 2013 Jeannine rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
May, 2013

I liked it even more the second time through and found that I'd mellowed towards some of the things that bothered me about the characters the first time. Really appreciated the writing - beautiful narrative, the author really brings us inside the characters, dialogue is well-placed. A book I'm sure to return to again.


I almost passed this one by because of the title, which brings to mind something sappy and "romantic" from, say, Nicholas Sparks.


This was a really good read, most
Aug 31, 2011 Mary rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book. It is the portrait of the Soames family who live in rural Missouri. It follows their lives during the first half of the 20th century. The Soames family is composed of Matthew and Callie and their four daughters. There are 6 parts to the book and each part is given from the perspective of each family member. Almost like 6 intertwining short stories that span the family's lifetime.

It made me stop to think about how each member of my family views the events that
Shari Larsen
Mar 13, 2013 Shari Larsen rated it it was amazing
A story of a Missouri family during the first half of the 20th century. Matthew and Callie Soames create a life for themselves and raise four headstrong daughters. One will break their hearts, one will fall in love with the wrong man, one escapes to New York, but wild child Mathy's fate will be the family's greatest tragedy. Over the decades, they will love, deceive, comfort, and forgive; and ultimately, they will cherish the bonds of love that hold them together.

The story is told in turns by th

We were split down the middle again I'm this one. Half loved it, going so far as to say it was as good or better than To Kill a Mockingbird. I and the other half couldn't finish it.
Dec 07, 2010 Diane rated it really liked it
The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton (1913-1999) was first published in 1962 by Simon and Schuster. The Harper Perennial edition was released in 2009, ten years after the author's death.

The story begins in summer in the 1950's as the adult children in the Soames family are visiting their parents, Matthew and Callie on their rural Missouri farm. The story begins as Mary Jo, the youngest of the four girls, tells of the annual visit to see their parents, which is both a reunion, and a sense of du
Jun 04, 2010 Diane rated it really liked it
The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton, is called "A rediscovered classic" on the cover of the book. Jane Smiley wrote the forward to this edition of the book, in which she discusses the illusion of completeness that all novelists strive for, but only the best attain. I would agree with Smiley that Carleton achieves this illusion. It's difficult to imagine what if anything is left out of this novel.

The novel is set in southwest Missouri in the early part of the 20th century. This is territory f
Jan 10, 2011 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton is the story of a family living and growing in rural Missouri. Matthew and Callie have four daughters, each one distinct, following a path truly her own. Matthew is a schoolteacher, more than willing to escape into his work and books even if it means his family comes second. Callie is loving, hardworking and wants nothing but the best for her family. Jessica is the tomboy of the family. Leonie is the good girl, wanting nothing more than to please her parents ...more
Feb 06, 2011 William rated it really liked it
I love the book. It is about a family living in rural Southwestern Missouri at the turn of the last century. Perhaps women would enjoy it the most, because a good part of it is about their daughters, but I thought it was great. Their daily life of running the farm, and the constant work of preparing foods, cleaning, keeping the old cars running, etc., reminds us of our easier life. There is always the background of the closeness and appreciation of the nature that surrounds them. Their speech, ...more
May 04, 2009 Shannon rated it really liked it
A coworker mentioned off-the-cuff the other day about how it is her favorite book. Besides the general recommendation of a "good" book, I am constantly curious as to what attracts a certain person to a specific book. In other words, I wanted to see what I could learn about my coworker from reading The Moonflower Vine. Now that I am reading it I am no closer to understanding my coworker than I was before, but finding myself involved in the story. At first I was a little confused by the narration ...more
Apr 22, 2010 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1962, this is the only novel written by Jetta Carleton. Even though it spent 3 months on the New York Times Bestseller list, it has gone mostly unnoticed. Set in the early 1900's in rural Missouri, the story follows the lives of Matthew and Callie from their teenage years through their marriage and the raising of four headstrong daughters, and into their twilight years. The writing is beautiful and their is much to learn as this deeply religious family struggles with the unexpected ...more
Dec 12, 2010 Kathy rated it liked it
From the glowing reviews, I thought I would like this book more. It was okay; but it was so bogged down in the small-town/farm interactions and activities, and very light on any lessons learned or self-awareness on the characters' parts. That is, until the middle of the book, when the story of Mathy comes into play. After the tragedy that befalls Mathy (and the entire Soames family), we glimpse how the devastating loss changes the whole family and gets the characters to do some serious ...more
Mar 16, 2014 MA rated it it was amazing
This novel was first published in 1962. Then it was forgotten until Jane Smiley endorsed this little-known book when she included it in her list of 100 great novels. That peaked my curiosity. The Moonflower Vine is a novel about a Midwestern Methodist family living in rural Missouri. The story begins in the early 1950's with the Soames family gathered at their farm for the daughters annual summer visit. The story takes you on a journey from the family's idyllic beginnings to revealing the ...more
Aug 02, 2013 Christina rated it really liked it
Moonflower Vine, set in rural Missouri in the early 1900's, is a quiet, family saga about Callie and Matthew Soames, a couple with four daughters: Jessica, Leonie, Mathy, and Mary Jo. The opening chapter gives us a quick look at Callie and Matthew in their 70's when their three surviving daughters return to the family farm for an annual visit. Then each chapter -- told from a different family member's perspective -- goes back in time to reveal the losses and the secrets that bind them to one ...more
Nov 22, 2010 Kathy rated it really liked it
I almost stopped reading this book in the middle. The chapters, after the first one, are by character - each member of the family. I did not enjoy the character of the father nor the chapter written about him. Once I got past that, I couldn't put it down. Reading this book makes you feel like you are reading something much more dated than the 1960s. I could not relate to the Christian morality themes much, but still I ended up liking it quite a bit. The book ends where it begins. And at the end, ...more
stephie kay
Feb 13, 2011 stephie kay rated it really liked it
I loved the philosophical/religious themes on which much of the character development is based. After each character's narration, you knew them better and could decide for yourself which to be most sympathetic or likeable. I thought Callie was the least defined personality until you read her part. Then you realize she is strong and happy. Even though I found her own admission that she doesn't even know Mary Jo very sad for her (which is my own bias), it is part of her personality that she ...more
The first section of this book is deceptive in its simple, happily harmonious narrative of a family living in mid-century rural Missouri. There are suggestions of family struggle and conflict, but the tone centers on the family's values concerning God and hard work. It is only as you stride deeper into each character's narrative that the personal and private conflicts of self-worth, loyalty and guilt come to light, creating real, multi-dimensional characters that resonate even for a contemporary ...more
Feb 12, 2012 Pam rated it liked it
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton 3.5/5 stars
I liked this book, although I didn't love it. The father totally aggravated me ... his constant striving for something more, while it seems admirable on the surface, started revealing a dissatisfaction with his life ... including his wife and daughters. None of them really lived up to his desires. All were flawed to be sure, but none of them fatally so. Actually the best part of the book was the beginning, the description of a visit home by the no
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Jetta Carleton (1913-1999) was born in Holden, Missouri, and earned a master's degree at the University of Missouri. She worked as a schoolteacher, a radio copywriter in Kansas City, and a television advertising copywriter in New York City, and she ran a small publishing house with her husband in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
More about Jetta Carleton...

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“Suddenly it seemed to me that I looked back from a great distance on that smile and saw it all again - the smile and the day, the whole sunny, sad, funny, wonderful day and all the days that we had spent here together. What was I going to do when such days came no more? There could not be many; for we were a family growing old. And how would I learn to live without these people? I who needed them so little that I could stay away all year - what should I do without them?” 33 likes
“Yet none of these things gave him confidence. All they gave him was egotism, which is less the conviction of one's worth than the desire for that conviction.” 8 likes
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