cover image The Truest Pleasure

The Truest Pleasure

Robert Morgan / Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $18.95 (

Eloquent, wise and heartbreaking, Morgan's second novel (after The Hinterlands) offers insightful truths about family life and marital relationships through the twangy voice of narrator Ginny Peace, who lives in North Carolina mountain country during the first half of this century. Hill people like Ginny and her family endure dawn-to-dusk labor on the farm and offer thanks for simple pleasures. But Ginny needs another dimension: attending Pentecostal revival meetings where she is moved to speak in tongues is the only way she can satisfy her craving for transcendence. Marriage to hardworking but taciturn Tom Powell and the birth of several children fulfills Ginny for a time, but the intoxicating joy of being ``cleansed by the Spirit'' lures her again and brings an irrevocable rift with Tom, who despises such uncontrolled behavior. They continue to work side by side while their marriage dissolves in misunderstanding, resentment and spite, until a crisis finally helps Ginny understand the dimensions of their mutual love. Morgan's touch in this novel is deft and assured. Rarely has the experience of religious ecstasy been described with such poetic intensity and lack of condescension. In addition, he combines a keen observation of the natural world with a bone-deep knowledge of the traditions and cyclical rites of country life. Homely scenes of domesticity, with bickering born of family tensions and jealousies, are given depth by episodes distinctive of Appalachian culture. The reader is astonished when, after this somewhat desultory recital of the practical details of farm labor and household routine, the action suddenly accelerates into one dramatic, suspenseful scene after another. Ginny becomes a heroic figure: indefatigable, burning with duty born of desperate hope and, finally, struck by a tragic epiphany. This story of unassuming people striving for goodness but alienated from each other by differences in personality and perception of the world cannot fail to pierce the reader with the same poignant, ironic insight Ginny achieves. (Sept.)