Gap Creek: The Story Of A Marriage

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The National Bestseller A New York Times Notable Book

There is a most unusual woman living in Gap Creek. Julie Harmon works hard, "hard as a man" they say, so hard that at times she's not sure she can stop. People depend on her.

She is just a teenager when her brother dies in her arms. The following year, she marries Hank and moves down into the valley. Julie and Hank discover that the modern world is complex, grinding ever on without pause or ...

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Gap Creek

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Overview

The National Bestseller A New York Times Notable Book

There is a most unusual woman living in Gap Creek. Julie Harmon works hard, "hard as a man" they say, so hard that at times she's not sure she can stop. People depend on her.

She is just a teenager when her brother dies in her arms. The following year, she marries Hank and moves down into the valley. Julie and Hank discover that the modern world is complex, grinding ever on without pause or concern for their hard work. To survive, they must find out whether love can keep chaos and madness at bay.

With Julie, Robert Morgan has brought to life one of the most memorable women in modern American literature with the skill that led Fred Chappell to say "Gap Creek is the work of a master."

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Selected by Oprah's Book Club™ as a pick of the month, Gap Creek tells the story of Hank and Julie and their struggle to eke out an existence on an electricity-free farm in rural North Caroline at the turn of the 20th century. Robert Morgan, widely regarded as "the poet laureate of Appalachia," has established a reputation for his gritty novels about the land, work, love and suffering. Gap Creek, The follow-up to The Truest Pleasure, revisits many of Morgan's old themes but executes them more assuredly and capably, making this undoubtedly his best book yet.
David Harsanyi
Morgan’s Gap Creek is an Appalachian town on the border of the Carolinas. In this world, Mother Nature rules and misfortune is an accepted fact of everyday life. With delicate, detail-rich prose, Morgan relates the story of young Julie Harmon and her husband Hank’s first year of marriage. Their brutal life—filled with death, oppressive winters, fire, flood and about every other calamity a writer could conjure up—tests their love, not to mention their physical and emotional endurance.

Morgan’s talent for gracefully illustrating the practical details of rural life is astonishing. Gap Creek’s beauty is found in its depiction of the dazzling Appalachian landscape and its people. Yet with all its lush, rustic imagery, investing emotionally in Gap Creek is quite a chore. The inhabitants fall so quickly from one tragedy into the next that the reader develops an immunity to their misfortune. Nonetheless, Morgan succeeds in painting a heartfelt picture of southern life.

Fred Chappell
Gap Creek is the work of a master. Robert Morgan knows every corner, every inch, of the way of life he portrays in this deeply affecting book. He has created one of the most admirable heroines in modern literature; I feel that I'll remember her always. Here is strength and grace and immeasurable courage: a triumph!
Loyal Jones
A poet's vision illuminates this starkly beautiful story of a strong young woman prevailing over natural disasters and tragedies, as well as cultural barriers, in the first year of her marriage in the last year of the last century. Robert Morgan tells her story with the certitude of a sure knowledge of a receding way of life in a changing Appalachian region.
Stewart O'Nan
In examining the hard, honest lives of his people, Robert Morgan gives voice to a time and place rarely imagined. Gap Creek speaks of things both intimate and eternal.
— author of The Names of The Dead, Snow Angels, A Praye for the Dying, and A World Away
New York Times Book Review
Morgan is among the relatively few American writers who write about work knowledgeably, and as if it really matters....You begin to feel, as you sometimes do when reading Cormac McCarthy's or Harry Crew's early novels, that the author has been typing with blood on his hands and a good deal of it has rubbed off onto your shirtsleeves. ...his stripped-down and almost primitive sentences burn with the raw, lonesome pathos of Hank William's best songs.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
Library Journal
This depressing novel tells a grim Appalachian story about love and mishap. By the time Julie meets Hank, she has already seen the tough side of life, but her rugged background doesn't prevent Hank from marrying her and taking her across the state line to South Carolina. There the couple finds work and tries, despite hardship, to make a new life together. A horrific set-up is just the beginning of a very hard first year for the newlyweds, as they survive one personal disaster after another. Morgan (a former Guggenheim fellow and author of the acclaimed The Truest Pleasure) has written a difficult--and ultimately disappointing--novel. The main characters tend to be rough to the point of mean, the mountain dialog is wooden, and the plot is as drab and harsh as the life being portrayed. Recommended for regional libraries only.--Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Morgan, the "poet laureate of Appalachia" (The Truest Pleasure, 1995, etc.) writes with a gritty, elemental candor about a South Carolina couple's tumultuous first year of marriage. Julie, the narrator of this turn-of-the-century tale, begins with the story of the death of her brother, followed by the death of her father, all before she has turned 17. Hank passes by her house one day and, with an abrupt simplicity, proposes matrimony. The two marry and set off for remote Gap Creek, South Carolina, where they make an arrangement with a Mr. Pendergast for living quarters. A crotchety malcontent, Pendergast agrees to put up the pair in exchange for housekeeping and laundry. So, Hank goes off in search of work, and Julie—resourceful, indifferently brave, and admirably industrious—tends to the difficult Pendergast. In a fire, the landlord is injured, and on his deathbed he begins describing hell to an unruffled Julie. Morgan offers vivid descriptions of killing and butchering a hog, later of plucking and skinning a turkey (Julie does both), as well as of Pendergast's final death and the flood that overtakes the couple's small homestead. Calamity follows calamity: Julie is cheated of her small amount of money, there are threatening sleet and ice storms, and the possible return of Pendergast's heirs is a pervading dread. There's also an earthy description of childbirthing, but when the premature infant dies, Julie and Hank find strength with their church and religion. An ideal example of a regional tale: free of "local color," respectful of his people, entirely free of condescension, Morgan offers a gliding, unhurried story of sufferings and hope that is simple andragged, but never seems alien. This couple's relentless misfortunes are given no more drama than they need, and all the compassion they deserve.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743203630
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 0.80 (h) x 7.90 (d)

Meet the Author

An accomplished novelist and poet, Robert Morgan has won the James B. Hanes Poetry Prize, the North Carolina Award in Literature, and the Jacaranda Review Fiction Prize. His novel The Truest Pleasure was a finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. He is a professor of English at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

"Set the canner further back on the stove," Ma Richards said. All the good feeling from the dinner table was gone from her voice.

"I've got to leave room to set the other one on," I said.

"You won't need room if that tips over on you," Ma snapped. She had changed back to her old self.

Instead of answering I started carving up more fat at the table. I sliced twenty times this way and twenty times crossways. The fat sliced easy as clotted cream or thick jelly. My left hand was so slick with grease I couldn't pick up anything but the blocks of fat. I raked the knife across the board harder than I needed to, to show how determined I was to get the job done and ignore Ma.

There was a little blood on the fat and on the board also, and I hardly noticed when I felt a nip at the end of my middle finger as I held a slab down to slice it. But when I saw the bright blood on the white fat I knowed I'd cut myself. A drop fell from the end of my finger, and then another. "Oh no," I said.

"What have you done?" Ma said.

"Just a nick," I said.

"Don't get blood on the lard fat," Ma said.

I grabbed a dishcloth and wiped the grease off my finger. I'd cut a place on the tip about the size of a pinhead. But it kept bleeding bright red drops. I cleaned off the left hand with the cloth and tore a strip from a fresh linen rag. I bound up the finger as best I could to stop the bleeding.

"That's what comes of being in a hurry," Ma said.

"I'll have to be more careful," I said. I wasn't going to take the time to get mad at Ma, and I wasn't going to stoop to the level of her snideness. With the bandage on my finger I finished slicing up the second pan of fat and then lugged the heavy canner to the top of the stove. But as I slid the container onto the stovetop I pushed it too far to the right and hit the canner already there. The boiling fat rocked like a wave had been sent through it. I backed away and seen a tongue of boiling lard spit up and over the rim as the wave sloshed on the side of the canner. The flung grease hissed on the stovetop and turned to crackling bubbles and smoke. But there must have been enough grease so that some of it busted into flame, for I seen fire on top of the stove. That might not have amounted to nothing, except the rocking and sloshing continued in the canner and the hot oil spit out again and leapt right into the flames. With a whoosh the fire flared on the stovetop. I think it would still have been all right and just burned there sizzling on the metal except a little more grease sloshed out of the pot and the fire caught onto that and followed the splash back into the pot. That was when the fire blazed up in the canner itself. All the hot oil caught at once and the flames jumped to the ceiling, lighting the kitchen.

"Oh my god," Ma said.

I looked around for something to throw on the flames. There wasn't a blanket or quilt anywhere. There wasn't anything bigger than a dish towel.

Now a grease fire is a worse kind of fire than usual. A grease fire hisses and jumps from one spot to another. There was grease all over the stove and all over the kitchen. The flames darted from one spot to another.

Ma run out to the back porch and got the water bucket. I'd heard that throwing water on boiling grease is the worst thing you can do, and I hollered for her to stop. But she flung the bucket of water right onto the flaming pot. You would think cold water would put a fire out, but the dousing exploded in a hiss and made the boiling lard splash in all directions. The flames followed the leap of the splash. The water just spread the fire. Flames landed on the second canner of fat and on the dishpans full of fat on the table. The whole kitchen seemed to turn to flames before my eyes. The curtains on the wall caught fire, and heat blistered my face.

"We'll have to get out," I yelled to Ma. I pulled her toward the back door. Smoke was already so thick you couldn't see much but the flames in the kitchen.

Mr. Pendergast come running in with another bucket of water.

I guess he must have been to the spring. "Don't throw no water," I hollered. But he flung the water right on the fire, making even more smoke and steam.

"I've got to get my money," he shouted.

"What money?" I said. It was so hot I could barely stand in the doorway.

"My pension money," he yelled.

"You come back," I said, and grabbed at his arm. But he had already jerked away. He dropped to the floor and crawled under the smoke. I knelt down where I could see, out of the worst smoke, and watched him work his way to the right of the stove.

"Get back here," I hollered.

"You better stop him!" Ma screamed.

I knowed Mr. Pendergast kept a can of kerosene sometimes used to start fires behind the stove, but I had forgot about it. He reached into the corner behind the wood box and brought out a pint jar. And I think he would have made it out except for this explosion that flared up behind the stove. It must have been the kerosene catching fire. I screamed as the flames covered Mr. Pendergast up.

"Let him go," Ma shouted. But I couldn't just leave Mr. Pendergast laying there in the fire. I had to try to help him. He was screaming and the fire seemed to be right on top of his head.

"Take his foot," I hollered to Ma, but she was already out the door and on the back steps coughing and trying to get her breath. "Grab hold of his foot," I said.

I took hold of Mr. Pendergast's feet and yanked as hard as I could, and he moved a little. I was coughing too and felt smothered from the smoke. I jerked harder and got Mr. Pendergast halfway out the door. And then Ma took one of his feet and helped me pull him onto the porch.

Mr. Pendergast's hair was burning, and part of his shirt was burning. I didn't have nothing but my apron, and I put my apron over his hair and snuffed out the flames. I burned my hands a little, but got the fire out. And just then Ma brought a bucket of water still warm from the washpot and throwed it on his shirt. We rolled Mr. Pendergast over on the wet porch and seen how bad his face and forehead was burned. The skin looked black on his forehead and scalp where his hair had been. His eyebrows was burned off and the skin on his cheeks looked red and peeling, and bloody in places under the soot.

I was thinking we had to put something on his face and on his back where his shirt had burned. What you put on burns is butter or lard or some other kind of grease or oil. There was butter in the spring house, but the lard was burning up in the kitchen. And then I thought, No, I'd better try to put the fire out first. If I can I've got to save the house. I stood up and looked in the door.

"You stay out of there," Ma Richards hollered. "Nothing you can do."

Smoke poured out the door and out the windows. You couldn't see nothing in the kitchen. I couldn't even see any flames. That made me think nothing was burning but the lard, and maybe that could be put out. I looked around the porch and seen a pile of tow sacks by the hoes and shovel and mattock. They had been used I guess for taking corn to mill or carrying leaves to put in cow stalls. I grabbed up eight or ten sacks and run to the washpot.

"What are you doing?" Ma Richards called.

"Putting out the fire," I hollered back. I plunged the sacks into the pot and pulled them out streaming warm water. With my arms around the dripping sacks I run toward the back door.

"You stay out of there," Ma yelled.

I leaped up the steps and run past Mr. Pendergast into the smoking kitchen. The smoke was so thick I couldn't see much. Bending close to the floor I walked to the stove and throwed wet sacks on the burning canners, and then the smoke boiled up worse and I couldn't hardly see what I was doing.

I run back out to the pile of sacks and got eight or nine more and carried them to the washpot.

"You stay out of there!" Ma screamed. But I didn't pay no attention to her. I carried the hot dripping sacks against my chest and hurried through the back door. I figured if the house could be saved I had to try. I'd started the fire, and I had to stop it. I stepped across Mr. Pendergast laying on the porch. He was starting to wake up from the smoke swoon, and hollering.

Fighting my way into the smoke, holding my breath and bending down low as I could, I put sacks on the burning grease on the table. I flung sacks on the burning can of kerosene and used the rest of the sacks like a shield to walk up to the burning curtains and jerk them down and smother them.

I started coughing, and every time I coughed I breathed in more smoke. Smoke burned my eyes so I couldn't see nothing. I put a hand over my eyes and started toward the door. To keep from breathing smoke I held my breath, and it felt like my chest was going to bust. The longer I held my breath the more it felt like my chest was ready to explode. And then I couldn't find the door. Smoke was everywhere and my eyes stung so I couldn't see. And I couldn't breathe for coughing and smothering myself. The smoke was so thick I couldn't tell up from down, or remember where the door was or where the table was. I was so weak I couldn't hardly stand up. My knee knocked against something hard, and my head banged on a sharp corner. There was nothing to breathe but smoke, dirty, greasy smoke.

Somebody pushed me and lifted me, and the next thing I knowed I was hobbling and tripping down the steps out into the yard where the air was cool. It was Hank helping me outside. The air was fresh, but every time I took a breath I coughed, and smoke burned in my lungs and in my throat. I bent over and felt something wet leap in my throat, and found I was throwing up on the ground. I was trying to throw up all the smoke I had swallowed, but puked out tenderloin and grits and butter, now sour and bitter. I had to throw up everything. I heaved until tears come to my eyes and I was so weak I was trembling.

"What in the world happened?" Hank said.

"Julie bumped a canner and the lard caught fire," Ma Richards said.

When I was empty I stood up straight and wiped my mouth and brow. "You could have been killed," Ma Richards said.

"The fire is out," Hank said. He looked through the doorway into the smoke. "You put it out just in time, before the floor or walls caught." He stepped out on the porch fanning the smoke with his hand. I looked through the back door and seen the smoke was settling in the kitchen. The top half of the room was already clear. And I seen Mr. Pendergast laying on the porch floor groaning. His face looked awful with its burns, but he was still holding the pint jar, and in the jar was dollar bills and coins like sliced pickles. A silver dollar had rolled out of the jar onto the porch.

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Introduction

Reading Group Guide

Gap Creek

Discussion Points

1. Julie is only in her teens when the novel opens, yet she has already learned to face life's hardships with a resiliency that is remarkable in one so young. We think of adolescence as a time of rebellion, yet Julie offers very little resistance to anything Mama and Papa tell her to do. Why do you think she is so accepting of her role? Sometimes Julie inwardly simmers at what she is asked to do, "but I didn't have any choice," she says. Is that true? What choices does she have?

2. Even though two of her sisters are older than she is, Julie is the one everyone counts on. "Everything that was hard fell to me, and everything that nobody else wanted to do fell to me." Why? What is the author saying about Julie? About those who depend on her? About the time and place in which she grows up? "Because you're the strongest one in the family. And because everyone has to do what they can," is her mama's explanation. What do you think of that philosophy? In what ways do people live up or down to what is expected of them?

3. When Julie helps her father carry her dying brother down the mountain, "it was the prettiest night you ever saw...It was the first time I ever noticed how the way the world looks don't have a thing to do with what's going on with people." Talk about both the beauty and the impersonality of nature in the novel. What is the author saying about the cycle of human life? Where does religion fit into Julie's world view?

4. Before Julie meets Hank she thinks about falling in love with "a strong man that knowed what he wanted and could teach you." Contrast this image with what she finds in Hank. "Idon't know why his look stung me so deep at that instant. We don't ever know why we fall in love with one person as opposed to another," she says. Is this true? Is it something a young girl might think, but that a mature woman might have a different perspective on? Talk about the importance of chemistry in a love relationship. Is it more or less important to you than shared interests and values? Why? What do you think of love at first sight?

5. Julie imagined her marriage would be something wonderful, but finds it different from what she expected. Her mama's view of marriage was simple: "Like everything else it is work, hard work." Do you think marriage is hard work? Contrast the way Julie responds to their hard life with the way that Hank responds. How do you think the different outlooks of Mama and Ma Richards have contributed to their offspring's readiness for the responsibilities of marriage?

6. Throughout the novel, we are given very detailed descriptions of the difficult and often unpleasant chores that Julie performs — from butchering a hog to laying out Mr. Pendergast's body after he dies from the fire. Does this help you to understand just how hard life was in Appalachia at the turn of the last century? Do you find Julie's capacity to endure despite unrelenting sorrows inspirational? Depressing?

7. "It was like we formed a special kinship in the kitchen," Julie says after sharing some unexpected pleasant moments with her mother-in-law. She experiences similar intimacy in her kitchen cooking a meal with her sister Lou. Discuss the special place that the kitchen can hold in women's lives. Julie experiences a similar bonding experience with two new women friends from church who bring her homemade jelly and clothes for the baby she is expecting. Why do you think the author has Julie find sustenance from women during the harsh winter and so little emotional support from her husband?

8. When Hank realizes Julie has been conned out of money by a lawyer, Hank smacks her across the face and cruelly insults her. Discuss Julie's reaction to his temper. When they make up in bed, Julie thinks "In the dark what mattered was we was together and naked...We would always find a way to live, a way to get back, as long as we could love." Do you share Julie's faith in their love? Why?

9. When Gap Creek rises and floods their house, something snaps in Hank who, shotgun in hand, threatens to shoot himself, and maybe Julie, too. "I ruint your life...I ought to kill us both," he shouts. As the disasters continue to pile up that bitter winter, Hank slides into a deep depression broken by fits of rage. Do you wonder why Julie continues to stick by him? What do you think of Hank?

10. All alone in the house with the nearest neighbor a mile and a half off, Julie goes into premature labor with no one to help her. She finds a way to deal with the agonizing pain and fear by simply looking at it as hard work. Discuss the concept of childbirth as the work women were "meant to do." Do you think this view of her role exalts or diminishes a woman?

11. When Hank arrives home to discover that Julie has given birth, there is a dramatic change in him. He lovingly tends to his sick wife and baby, does all the chores, and, as Julie observes, "It was like Hank had got a lot older." Why do you think he is now ready to take care of his family? Do you think he is able to become strong because, for once in their marriage, Julie is in a weakened state? Or do you think the strength, faith, and gentle nurturing of his young bride have finally rubbed off on him? Is the change in Hank believable?

12. In her fevered state after childbirth, Julie is visited by her dead father in a vision and he tells her she will live and continue to work and love. How does Julie use work to get her through her grief when her baby dies? A continuous thread throughout the novel, work is always hard and necessary, sometimes ennobling, and often the only path to survival. Talk about the various functions that work serves in the novel. In our lives? What is your own view of work? If we didn't need to work for the material benefits it provides, what would its value be?

13. Novelist Robert Morgan is also a prizewinning poet, and critics have praised Gap Creek for its "starkly beautiful" imagery and "simple but luminous" prose. The New York Times Book Review says Morgan's "stripped-down and almost primitive sentences burn with the raw, lonesome pathos of Hank Williams's best songs." What do you think of Morgan's writing style? Can you think of any other fictional characters — in novels or in movies — whom Julie reminds you of? Do you enjoy reading this kind of fiction? Why or why not?

Note to Readers

When I began writing Gap Creek I knew I wanted to tell a story loosely based on the first year of marriage of my maternal grandparents. They had gotten married about a hundred years before on Mount Olivet and moved down to Gap Creek in South Carolina. I knew them as elderly people when I was very young. Grandma, who kept me during the day while my mother worked in the cotton mill, died when I was three. I wanted to tell a story about a woman like her, who did heavy men's work on the farm, and spent her life working for others, for her sisters and her husband, her children and grandchildren, the sick and needy of the community.

I tell my students that you do not write living fiction by attempting to transcribe actual events onto the page. You create a sense of real characters and a real story by putting down one vivid detail, one exact phrase, at a time. The fiction is imagined, but if it is done well, it seems absolutely true, as real as the world around us.

The hardest work I did on Gap Creek was trying to get the voice right. Julie, who tells her own story, is not well educated and is not much of a talker. In fact, she feels inarticulate. She feels she expresses herself best with her hands, with her work. The trick was to create a plain voice, with simple, direct sentences, that could express the complex emotions and intimacy of marriage, even poetic experience. When I finally heard that voice in my mind I was able to write the novel rather quickly.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Gap Creek

Discussion Points

1. Julie is only in her teens when the novel opens, yet she has already learned to face life's hardships with a resiliency that is remarkable in one so young. We think of adolescence as a time of rebellion, yet Julie offers very little resistance to anything Mama and Papa tell her to do. Why do you think she is so accepting of her role? Sometimes Julie inwardly simmers at what she is asked to do, "but I didn't have any choice," she says. Is that true? What choices does she have?

2. Even though two of her sisters are older than she is, Julie is the one everyone counts on. "Everything that was hard fell to me, and everything that nobody else wanted to do fell to me." Why? What is the author saying about Julie? About those who depend on her? About the time and place in which she grows up? "Because you're the strongest one in the family. And because everyone has to do what they can," is her mama's explanation. What do you think of that philosophy? In what ways do people live up or down to what is expected of them?

3. When Julie helps her father carry her dying brother down the mountain, "it was the prettiest night you ever saw...It was the first time I ever noticed how the way the world looks don't have a thing to do with what's going on with people." Talk about both the beauty and the impersonality of nature in the novel. What is the author saying about the cycle of human life? Where does religion fit into Julie's world view?

4. Before Julie meets Hank she thinks about falling in love with "a strong man that knowed what he wanted and could teach you." Contrast this image with what she finds in Hank. "I don't know why his look stung me so deep at that instant. We don't ever know why we fall in love with one person as opposed to another," she says. Is this true? Is it something a young girl might think, but that a mature woman might have a different perspective on? Talk about the importance of chemistry in a love relationship. Is it more or less important to you than shared interests and values? Why? What do you think of love at first sight?

5. Julie imagined her marriage would be something wonderful, but finds it different from what she expected. Her mama's view of marriage was simple: "Like everything else it is work, hard work." Do you think marriage is hard work? Contrast the way Julie responds to their hard life with the way that Hank responds. How do you think the different outlooks of Mama and Ma Richards have contributed to their offspring's readiness for the responsibilities of marriage?

6. Throughout the novel, we are given very detailed descriptions of the difficult and often unpleasant chores that Julie performs — from butchering a hog to laying out Mr. Pendergast's body after he dies from the fire. Does this help you to understand just how hard life was in Appalachia at the turn of the last century? Do you find Julie's capacity to endure despite unrelenting sorrows inspirational? Depressing?

7. "It was like we formed a special kinship in the kitchen," Julie says after sharing some unexpected pleasant moments with her mother-in-law. She experiences similar intimacy in her kitchen cooking a meal with her sister Lou. Discuss the special place that the kitchen can hold in women's lives. Julie experiences a similar bonding experience with two new women friends from church who bring her homemade jelly and clothes for the baby she is expecting. Why do you think the author has Julie find sustenance from women during the harsh winter and so little emotional support from her husband?

8. When Hank realizes Julie has been conned out of money by a lawyer, Hank smacks her across the face and cruelly insults her. Discuss Julie's reaction to his temper. When they make up in bed, Julie thinks "In the dark what mattered was we was together and naked...We would always find a way to live, a way to get back, as long as we could love." Do you share Julie's faith in their love? Why?

9. When Gap Creek rises and floods their house, something snaps in Hank who, shotgun in hand, threatens to shoot himself, and maybe Julie, too. "I ruint your life...I ought to kill us both," he shouts. As the disasters continue to pile up that bitter winter, Hank slides into a deep depression broken by fits of rage. Do you wonder why Julie continues to stick by him? What do you think of Hank?

10. All alone in the house with the nearest neighbor a mile and a half off, Julie goes into premature labor with no one to help her. She finds a way to deal with the agonizing pain and fear by simply looking at it as hard work. Discuss the concept of childbirth as the work women were "meant to do." Do you think this view of her role exalts or diminishes a woman?

11. When Hank arrives home to discover that Julie has given birth, there is a dramatic change in him. He lovingly tends to his sick wife and baby, does all the chores, and, as Julie observes, "It was like Hank had got a lot older." Why do you think he is now ready to take care of his family? Do you think he is able to become strong because, for once in their marriage, Julie is in a weakened state? Or do you think the strength, faith, and gentle nurturing of his young bride have finally rubbed off on him? Is the change in Hank believable?

12. In her fevered state after childbirth, Julie is visited by her dead father in a vision and he tells her she will live and continue to work and love. How does Julie use work to get her through her grief when her baby dies? A continuous thread throughout the novel, work is always hard and necessary, sometimes ennobling, and often the only path to survival. Talk about the various functions that work serves in the novel. In our lives? What is your own view of work? If we didn't need to work for the material benefits it provides, what would its value be?

13. Novelist Robert Morgan is also a prizewinning poet, and critics have praised Gap Creek for its "starkly beautiful" imagery and "simple but luminous" prose. The New York Times Book Review says Morgan's "stripped-down and almost primitive sentences burn with the raw, lonesome pathos of Hank Williams's best songs." What do you think of Morgan's writing style? Can you think of any other fictional characters — in novels or in movies — whom Julie reminds you of? Do you enjoy reading this kind of fiction? Why or why not?

Note to Readers

When I began writing Gap Creek I knew I wanted to tell a story loosely based on the first year of marriage of my maternal grandparents. They had gotten married about a hundred years before on Mount Olivet and moved down to Gap Creek in South Carolina. I knew them as elderly people when I was very young. Grandma, who kept me during the day while my mother worked in the cotton mill, died when I was three. I wanted to tell a story about a woman like her, who did heavy men's work on the farm, and spent her life working for others, for her sisters and her husband, her children and grandchildren, the sick and needy of the community.

I tell my students that you do not write living fiction by attempting to transcribe actual events onto the page. You create a sense of real characters and a real story by putting down one vivid detail, one exact phrase, at a time. The fiction is imagined, but if it is done well, it seems absolutely true, as real as the world around us.

The hardest work I did on Gap Creek was trying to get the voice right. Julie, who tells her own story, is not well educated and is not much of a talker. In fact, she feels inarticulate. She feels she expresses herself best with her hands, with her work. The trick was to create a plain voice, with simple, direct sentences, that could express the complex emotions and intimacy of marriage, even poetic experience. When I finally heard that voice in my mind I was able to write the novel rather quickly.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 1142 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(318)

4 Star

(330)

3 Star

(229)

2 Star

(109)

1 Star

(156)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 1142 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2001

    Mega-Depressing Oprah Pick Not Worth the Effort

    After the final disgusting scene in the first chapter I knew I shouldn't waste my time on this all too self-possessed effort to depress and wear on the reader. I've always been leary of 'Oprah Picks' but this one takes the prize. Do the editors at Oprah's show pick such bad novels on purpose? From the death of her little brother from worms (which is unneccesarily graphically portrayed) to her struggles against her strange husband (whose character annoyingly is never really explained or developed thoroughly by the author), the protangonist, a young woman in her late teens named Julie, is slapped hard incessantly by her circumstances. I just wanted a break from it. Although it was an easy read (day and a half, thankfully no longer) I found myself wishing that the protangonist would just go home to her mama and forget about Gap Creek. She and her bizarre husband eventually do, but it's too late to save the effort. Try a different novel. Don't waste your time on this one.

    29 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2005

    Like watching paint dry?

    Beyond boring. Floods, fire and famine all while they stay in the same house. My book club read this book , only one person liked it, the rest almost stoned her for suggesting this book.

    24 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2001

    ZZZZZZZZ!!!!

    I wish they had a 'zero stars' option for this book. A real snoozer--I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never did. How many pages-long descriptions of pig slaughter and floor scrubbing does one reader need? I get tired enough thinking about my own housework; I certainly don't care to read about someone else's boring chores, no matter how hard the chores may be! And what's with the weenie men? They all either die untimely deaths, whine incessantly, or dump all their workloads onto Julie. Give me a break! Apparently, I have more faith in men than Mr. Morgan has.

    15 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Hated it.

    This book was so depressing. The couple never got a break. I read this book years ago and it is the only book i have ever owned that I put in the trash. I couldn't pass that saddness on.

    14 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2011

    Free is a perfect price

    This Free Friday book has a perfect price on it. I wouldn't spend money on this book and recommend reading it only if you are desperate for reading material. A friend loaned this to me a long time ago and I read it then, but remember that it was not a happy read.

    I will say one thing about the book, it does make an impression on you! It describes poverty in a way that I'll never experience. I can't remember many of the books I've read, but this one I do.

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2009

    shakes you up

    A very compelling book! The life lessons contained really give you perspective on your own life. All of the stuggles that the main character goes through leave you deep in thought as to what god really has in mind when you descend this earth. It shows that the light at the end of the tunnel may not always be what you expect, but it's what you need to continue to go on. I highly recommend this book. It's a great read that you don't want to put down.

    11 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2008

    A reviewer

    I was definitely disappointed. With a good book, readers find themselves unable to put the book down. With this book, I found myself taking breaks from it. While some parts touched me, it wasn't enough for me to gasp or really feel what the characters were feeling. The way the book was written was too monotone and there wasn't excitement pouring out of the words where there should have been. Gap Creek may seem fit for others, but overall, I felt the book moved too slow. The ending also totally sucks.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2001

    Excellent

    This is a very moving portrait of a young woman's will to survive tragedy and pain in the 1900's in the Appalachian mountains.Robert Morgan writes in very realisitic manner. The reader becomes the heroine. I could not put this down.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2000

    Unrealistic

    After living in the mountain foothills only a 20-minute drive from the Gap Creek area for the last 35 years, I found Mr. Morgan's characters a little too educated for the times. Also, I felt that it was obviously written by a man trying to express a female point-of-view, which he was not able to accomplish to my satisfaction. I was left with an uncomfortable feeling after finishing the book. 'The Perils of Pauline' for the new millenium.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting

    A slap in your face to how easy we have it... stimulating

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2005

    Okay, I guess

    There was this long drawn description of someone preparing a pig. That kinda threw me off. I sort of like this book. it did have it ups and downs. I probably won't read it again!

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2001

    A Strong Woman

    I enjoyed this book very much. I like books about strong women of the 19th century. I couldn't put it down and was sorry when it ended. I want to know more about Julie and Hank. This book gives me a deep appreciation for the hard work of my ancestors.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 13, 2011

    Slowwwww

    Did not enjoy. Slow and anticlimactic.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2007

    snore

    I don't think I've ever said this about a book before but what a waste of time. Bad choice for a book club. Nothing to discuss.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2000

    Can't Put It Down!

    I was so involved with what was happening to Julie that I could not stop reading this book until I finished it! I loved it and passed it on to my daughter. I am familiar with the general area the book deals with and remember it with fondness, as Rober Morgan writes about waterfalls and valleys surrounded by mountains. It's my favorite place on earth to visit on vacations. The story is great.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

    Misleading book

    I started the book and thought that I would like it. Nope. It started out okay and then got depressing and then it abruptly ended. I have the ebook version (a Free Friday book) and I think that it is missing pages and chapters. I did some investigating and saw that the "hands-on" books had about 100 pages more than the ebook edition (227 pages for the ebook compared to 329 for the "real" book). I guess that you get what you pay for--in my case it was nothing. I wouldn't read it again. The storyline was too depressing.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2011

    Wonderful book!

    I'm amazed at the negative reviews I have read here. This was a spellbinding book and the main character, Julie was an amazing example of courage. I found it hard to believe that it was written by a man, particularly the parts dealing with childbirth!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2011

    (: Loved it

    I hated the way it ended but overall it was an amazing book(: I loved it!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2011

    Reminds me of my grandparents

    I've read thousands of books. This is the best I have ever read.

    5 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2001

    A great easy read!

    I feel this was a true portrait of what life could have been at that time in the country! These people where real and did the best they could . They learned to help each other. I laughed and cried with them through their many ups and downs. I recomemend this book highly!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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