Man in the Blue Moon
by Michael Morris
published by Tyndale House Publishers
Michael Morris’s Southern historical, Man in the Blue Moon, paints a rich picture of small town Florida during the Great War. From influenza epidemics and corrupt local authorities to the prejudices of gossiping neighbors and the frenzy of traveling evangelicals, Morris’s tale of one woman’s struggle for her family land and reputation is rooted in vivid detail that will woo lovers of period fiction.
Ella Wallace is at the end of her strength: her opium-plied husband ran off, leaving her with three sons and a mountain of debt on her family property. When a windfall grandfather clock shows up at the port with her name on it, Ella hopes she can manage to keep above water at least till the end of the war. The government is hollering for pine and cypress, both prevalent on Ella’s land. If she has to, she can sell wood. But from the shipment case springs not a clock, but an unlikely young man with demons of his own and a strange talent that will soon have the neighbors buzzing and the sheriff, in the banker’s back pocket, knocking at her door—and shooting at it. When a preacher rides into town claiming her land as God’s sacred Eden, and when old family enemies track down her new clock-delivered field hand and confidant, Ella must dig deep to find the strength and dignity to protect the lives of her three sons, salvage her reputation, and move beyond the emotional toll of her husband’s failings.
Morris employs an authentic sense of claustrophobia in Man in the Blue Moon, derived in part by an enormous cast of point of view characters rivaling those of much longer books. There’s no telling whose perspective might next take center stage, or what new plot thread might suddenly uncoil from an already dense thicket of narrative jungle. Subplots between characters take the spotlight for short stints and then fade into the background throb of nosey neighbor gossip and interior monologue. Even the pacing of the main plot mimics the slow mundanity of rural Southern life.
In that respect, Morris certainly accomplishes a certain realism with structure and style, adding to a chorus of colloquialisms and pitch perfect dialects. His literary flare is evident in striking descriptions of the natural world, and his use of suspense—scene-by-scene—lends a nice sense of movement to otherwise rather stagnating chapters.
Thus, a reader hoping for a quick, mindless jaunt into story or, on the opposite end, one hoping for total immersion and escape might be advised to look elsewhere. Anyone with a hankering for emotional connection to character will find the book delivers little substance to that effect. The novel’s strengths lie primarily in its detail and adherence to historical period.
Overall, Man in the Blue Moon would have been well served by achieving a better balance of fictional elements.