Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0743203631
Novelist Robert Morgan is also a prizewinning poet, and the poetic imagery in Gap Creek is noted from the very first page. “Simplicity,” you might say. Or: “Lost in a pool of simple words and times.” It’s hard to describe Gap Creek, but Mr. Morgan succeeds in bringing light and substance to the simple words that fill the pages of this enlightening novel. The beauty of the story speaks for itself; it does not need the glamour and glitz of a fancy package. The message is in the imagery, in the heart and soul of the characters, in the part of the author that sneaks inside.
        Simply put: Julie, the main protagonist, is a character who has made an uncomplicated life for herself. She doesn’t ask for much and she’s a hard worker who expresses herself through just that. Julie is only in her teens as the novel opens, but it doesn’t take the reader long to see she has already learned to take some of life’s hardships with a resiliency that is remarkable in someone so young.
         Things have never been easy for Julie. We see her as she carries her young dead brother up a mountain and home to be buried. There is a calm, clear expression on her face as she remarks to her father on the beauty of the night and the dark sky. Soon after, she cares for her sick father as her sisters and mother sleep soundly in the next room. Her strength is endlessly put to the test, yet she bears no bitterness, no regret, no anger for the role she must play.
         Before Julie meets Hank, her soon-to-be husband, she rarely indulges in thoughts of love or romance. Her life has always been spent working her fingers to the bone, picking up the slack of others, lost in a silent reverie of hard work, responsibility, dedication. It’s not long after Julie is married that she realizes marriage isn’t quite what she thought it would be. Like everything else in her life, it’s hard work. But just like everything else she accepts it. As a married woman, there are times when she and her husband are unsure of their next meal. The cold, cold winter nights, the fight just to be alive in the early 1900s make the reader see the simple way Julie lives and takes on responsibility. In the darkness of the night, she revels in her love for her husband and the simple beauty of having his skin on hers, reminding the reader that the smallest of things are the most important.
         Throughout the novel, the reader is given detailed descriptions of the difficult and often unpleasant chores that Julie performs—from butchering a hog to laying out a body alone. This book captures the value of hard work and gives the reader a glimpse of what life was like in Appalachia at the turn of the century.
         Robert Morgan has given us a character to learn from, wrapped in beautiful and articulate prose. Julie has such a capacity for life, for pain, for love and hard work that it’s hard not to find her quiet existence incredibly inspiring.
         Julie’s sadness and quiet endurance carry the reader through the novel. The bitterly cold winter nights and the flood that nearly takes her life keep the reader on the edge of every page. Julie works through every emotion, every feeling with her hands, her muscled arms, and her determination as she makes a new life.
         Though cloaked in the hardship of a rough winter, the ending of the novel brings a light to the end of the tunnel for both the reader and for Julie and Hank—the young couple we’ve grown to love. The tough winter is over, Julie is again with child, and they walk off into the sunset with a little money in their pocket and a lot of hope for a better future.
         Robert Morgan has written a novel that isn’t flashy, a novel that isn’t driven by scandal, murder, rage, or romantic love. Yet his work is compelling. He presents the story of a simple life. It is an illuminating reminder of a time when things were much more simple—a fictional time when there weren’t as many questions in life, roles were more defined, and every day was appreciated, no matter what it brought. And, unlike reality, Gap Creek is a place to which we can return again and again.