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The Moonflower Vine

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,540 ratings  ·  516 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 wild

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Kindle Edition, 349 pages
Published (first published 1962)
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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...more
Brian Melendez
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 siblin...more
Katherine Stewart
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...more
Rosina Lippi
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...more
Melissa
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...more
Vicki
Aug 19, 2013 Vicki rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vicki by: Chinaberry Website
Shelves: classics, family-saga
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 jus...more
Jeanette
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...more
Judy
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...more
Karen
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
Kristen
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.
Mary
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...more
Karyl
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
Jeannine
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.

Well.

This was a really good read, most...more
William
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, q...more
Debbie
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
Stephanie
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
Diane
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...more
Shannon
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
Diane
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...more
Shari Larsen
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...more
Kathy
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 soul-sear...more
MA
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 indivi...more
Kathy
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
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 choose...more
Kathrina
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
Janice
I loved this story of a family living in rural west/central Missouri. Callie and Matthew Soames are parents of four daughters they are raising on his meager salary as a teacher, and living off what they raise themselves on their farm. Their marriage started in the late 19th Century, and this story spans the first half of the 20th, portraying a life that was both much harder than most of us live today, but also much simpler in many ways. Each chapter tells a different family member's perspective,...more
Pam
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...more
Jspedal
I was going to give the book 3 stars, but the last chapter was beautifully written and tied the story together so well that I went for a 4 star. This book was written in 1962 and was about a family living in Missouri. The story timeframe was from the late 1800's to the earlier portion of the 1900's. It was somewhat old-fashioned and I wasn't overly interested in some of the characters but at times the author's writing was a joy to read.
I had read a review about the book and they loosely compared...more
Leslie
This is one of those still-waters-run-deep, sleeper, makes you think, type of book that is very much about the lives of women. I'd compare it to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book I didn't want to read because I assumed it was all mush and sentimentality -- and I was oh so wrong.

There's a nice twist near the end that helps to explain some things; or perhaps it is more accurate to say that other explanations because possible within the world of this novel, and the painful condition of being human...more
Kim
When this book came out they proclaimed its author the next Harper Lee.They were right this is the only book that Jetta Carlson ever wrote and it is a beautiful book! The book is about family love that endures through hard times . I was going to highlight my favorite parts of the book problem is I would've highlighted every page!!I must warn you though the family references God a lot in this book.Just so you know . For me the love of family and God enhanced the book.
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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?” 23 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.” 7 likes
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