The Florida Panhandle: Where Myth, Magic, and Reality Meet: A review of Man in the Blue Moon (2012) by Michael Morris

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In his third novel, Man in the Blue Moon, Mr. Morris presents the reader with Ella Wallace, a woman burdened by a promising past that went unrealized and a present dominated by the responsibility of raising three sons alone and the possible foreclosure on her family’s long-held land.

When her wayward husband, Harlan, disappears one day, and a local banker informs her of a second mortgage, hitherto unknown to her and signed with a forged signature, the situation could not be more dire. Or so Ella believes, that is until the arrival of a shipping crate in which unusual contents have been enclosed: that of a man claiming to be a cousin of her absent husband. This stranger, named Lanier Stillis, claims to be on the run from influential and violent in-laws who are convinced of his guilt in the death of his wife, a death with which Lanier claims no involvement. Despite Ella’s trepidation and distrust, Lanier offers her his much-needed assistance that includes his miraculous healing of her sickly son by means of “laying on of hands,” something that does not go unnoticed by her neighbors in the small town of Dead Lakes, Florida.

This situation is further complicated by the arrival of Brother Mabry, a charismatic preacher of grotesque proportions, who claims that the Wallace family land is the location of the biblical Garden of Eden, and the spring found therein to be capable of physical healing, a claim that leads to national attention that is neither needed nor wanted. Serving as the backdrop upon which the story is hung, the year is 1918 and despite the end of the First World War, which would have otherwise been great cause for celebration, an especially virulent form of the flu has begun spreading around the county causing widespread deaths, thus, putting an end to jubilation.

Deeply rooted in the Southern literary tradition, Mr. Morris weaves an engrossing tale involving well-researched historical fact, the unique setting of the Florida Panhandle, and his own family folklore, all of which are then whisked together with that essential ingredient of fine fiction: fanciful imagination. And for those readers interested primarily in plot, disappointment does not await, as the plotline progresses through twists and turns, disappointments, and fleeting victories resulting in the need to reach the denouement, whether it be tragedy or triumph. This is due, in great part, to the skill employed by Mr. Morris in vividly crafting characters that the reader can immediately picture and who are plausible. Characters in this story elicit emotion, drawing the reader in to the lives that are being chronicled.

Which characters will survive the 1918 Influenza Pandemic? Do the detestable antagonists emerge victorious, or does the side of good and right triumph? What was the fate of Harlan? Over the course of the novel, the reader develops a relationship of sorts with the characters, being both omniscient observer and concerned participant. In the end, Ella seems more friend than fictitious personage.

Other novels by Mr. Morris include:

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Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type and Large Type), eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill