cover image Gap Creek

Gap Creek

Robert Morgan / Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $22.95 (

The ordinary folk of Appalachia are Morgan's subjects, and here he offers another compassionate tale of poor people enduring brutal working lives and harsh deprivations with stoic dignity. While not as memorable as The Truest Pleasure, this story of a North Carolina mountain girl who marries at 16 and with her new husband goes to live in Gap Valley, over the border in South Carolina, is a quiet tale told with simplicity and tenderness. Julia Harmon has become accustomed to sawing firewood, digging ditches and caring for the livestock on her family's farm while her father dies of consumption. When she marries Hank Richards and begins to keep house for their mean-tempered landlord in Gap Creek, she has no idea of the disasters that await during her first year of marriage. Daily life is hard enough for Julia--hauling and then boiling gallons of water to wash clothes, butchering a hog and rendering lard, and scrubbing, preserving and baking. But then a fire envelops the kitchen and fatally burns the landlord, a flood almost destroys the house and outbuildings and ruins all their provisions, and a cold snap kills off everything else. Julia is pregnant and Hank has lost his job, and both have been gulled by sharpies into giving up their tiny savings. Moreover, Julia realizes, Hank is immature, hot-tempered and burdened with a defeatist attitude. Morgan's skill in character delineation is evident in his descriptions of Julia's maturation as she learns to handle her husband's frightening moods and behavior. Most impressive is his description of childbirth, which Julia endures alone. Tragedy follows, but when the young couple seem to have lost everything, a grudging fate finally smiles on them. Morgan's familiarity with all the aspects of rural life, from grueling domestic tasks to labor in the fields and woods, sometimes tempts him into detailed descriptions that verge on the tedious. Yet the narrative immerses the reader in a time, early in this century, and place when five dollars was a fortune, home-made jam a lifesaving gift and the simple act of going to church a step toward survival. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.