Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publish Date: January 1, 1999
Find it here: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N
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 to slaughter the hogs and nurse the dying. People are weak, and there is so much to do. She is just a teenager when her little brother dies in her arms. That same year she marries and moves down into the valley where floods and fire and visions visit themselves on her, and con men and drunks and lawyers come calling. Julie and her husband discover that the modern world is complex and that it grinds 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. (from Goodreads)
Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
My Thoughts: Sometimes it’s so hard to tell somebody the WHY’s and the reasons behind loving a book or an author so much except to assure them that you just do. What I can tell you all is that I have loved the work of Robert Morgan forever, or at least since I first picked up Gap Creek back when I was much younger – back when it was one of Oprah’s Book Club picks in 2000.
I didn’t know at the time that the story would appeal to me on so many different levels but I was thrilled to my core to find out that it featured a particular time in American history that I loved and a particular region that is close to my heart. After reading this book so many times, I realize that I love this fictional family so much, I feel like I know them personally. You guys, I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve read Gap Creek. But it is so comfortable to me and I love it so much and I’m so glad that I picked it back up so I can share it with you all.
Julie Harmon is seventeen years old, and she’s the most hard-working young girl anyone has ever seen. In fact, she’s almost too hard-working. She’s afraid that no boy will ever want to court her and no man will ever want to marry her. Her hands aren’t as soft as her sisters’ hands are, and she is much too strong. Julie can’t help this; after the death of her young brother Masenier and her father soon after, somebody had to pick up the slack around the family farm, and it wasn’t likely that her sisters were going to do it.
It had been a particularly harsh winter around the Harmon house, and after losing two family members the house seemed to always have a somber tone. There were some days when Julie thought she couldn’t stand it anymore, but she kept going. One day, she was outside sawing wood with her mother when a wagon stopped by them. It was the young and handsome and unmarried Hank Richards from over on Painter Mountain. He spoke to Julie’s mother for a few minutes and Julie’s mother invites him to church the following Sunday. Julie is mortified because she’s so hot – she’s sweating and she’s even taken her shoes off, which is so unladylike! – but Hank doesn’t seem to pay that any attention at all. Julie can barely believe it when Hank comes all the way back to church on Sunday. Did he come to see her? Oh my, she hopes so. It feels like he might be stealing glances at her throughout the service, but she doesn’t want to get her hopes up. She is, after all, not the girliest of girls.
Julie’s mother invites Hank for lunch and he accepts the invitation. Then he secretly steals a kiss! Then shortly after, he asks Julie to marry him and they are engaged. When they marry soon after, Hank and Julie move over to Gap Creek, South Carolina, to a house that Hank has rented. The house belongs to an older man, Mr. Pendergast, but Hank has struck a deal with the man: Julie will cook and clean for him in exchange for their lodging. The house isn’t very large, but it is enough and it is home. Mr. Pendergast is a bit of an old jerk – just an old man set in his ways – and he and Julie butt heads a bit during the day while Hank is away. After a while, they become used to one another when they’re settling into a comfortable rhythm, oh my goodness Hank’s mother, Ma Richards, invites herself for a visit! Ma Richards is one tough lady, always offering criticism on basically everything Julie does.
So Hank goes off to work everyday – honest work – and Julie is left to deal with old Mr. Pendergast and his demands on the one hand and the condescending and rude Ma Richards on the other hand. Julie takes it in stride as best as she can (she does a great job, mind you) WHEN TRAGEDY STRIKES. I’ll repeat: tragedy strikes when Hank is off working. This is back before the time of telephones, so Hank isn’t there to help. This is back when the nearest neighbors are miles away. It’s young Julie by herself with two older people and this awful thing that happens. And this thing that happens – it’s pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that not everyone makes it through. BUT! Hank and Julie are a strong couple, and they can get through this. Right? Hopefully. I mean, it’s tough, given the time in history and the region in which they live and everything that is thrown at them. They’re so determined to make it work at Gap Creek.
Gap Creek by Robert Morgan, you guys. OH MY GOODNESS. I really just want all of you to sit down on carpet squares at my feet and let me animatedly tell you this story like it is storytime at the library, because I feel this story like it is so a part of my heart and my mind that I can do it and do it well.
First of all, let me set the scene: Gap Creek takes place on the North Carolina/ South Carolina border, in the Appalachian Mountain region back in the late 1890’s-early1900’s. In fact, the century turns in the book. I love this region so much and I love this time period so much, so it stands to reason that I’m bound to love this story. There is something so very Americana about the stories from this time period because of the difficulties everyone had back then, and in this region – Appalachia – it was particularly difficult.
Hank and Julie set off to Gap Creek, SC with big dreams, just like any other young couple. They didn’t have much with them other than the clothes on their back – literally they carried only a couple of things as they primitively traveled to the house that they would share with Mr. Pendergast, but they were optimistic. Hank took his job, and right away Julie found herself a little bit disappointed. See, she was so happy to marry and get away from working so hard – working outside, like a man – and here she is, right back to doing things like slaughtering hogs, etc! Because of both the age and poor health of Mr. Pendergast and the long, long hours that Hank was away from the house, there was nobody else to do the outside work…AGAIN. However, Julie kept her head up and tried to remain positive because HEY AT LEAST SHE KNEW HOW TO DO THESE THINGS, RIGHT? Right. Well, then along comes the very negative and very critical Ma Richards. Complete and constant negativity! (It’s almost comical, except it isn’t. But it kind of is.) She is one woman that I want to reach through the book and slap. And yet again, Julie does the good thing, the right thing for the time and is respectful to her husband’s mother – she kept her mouth closed for the most part. It’s just this tragedy that struck, you guys, that makes such a huge difference in the lives of these characters and changes the tone of the story so much. It’s so much for someone to bear – let alone a fresh, young couple – but that’s how life was back in these times. Unfortunately, there is some truth to this tragedy.
Hank is a lot different from Julie. I don’t think that Hank was ever as strong as Julie. Hank has days where he is loving and kind and then he has days where he has a temper that comes from nowhere. Still, Julie is the strong one, a solid rock throughout everything. Julie Richards is amazing and I just love her. She suffers through her own share of tragedies, but still she is incredible.
This thing that happened changed everything. Life threw lemons at Hank and Julie. It didn’t toss them lightly, it threw them as hard as possible. And it nearly did this couple in. After this thing, there were days with little to no food, con men and betrayal, loss of work and family, loss of so much. There were days of hope and of no hope, days of prayer and days of anger at God and the rest of the world. There were days of tears and days of happiness. Everything that could happen to this couple during this time DID. The overriding question throughout the story is: how much can Hank and Julie take and can their love survive everything that keeps getting thrown at them?
Gap Creek is a story told by Julie, beginning when she is seventeen and lasting over the course of a short while. It’s the story of the beginning of Hank and Julie’s life together, and the hardship they face just trying to make it on their own in a tough time, in a tough place. Life throws them some crazy things, and they keep going. They have tough days, but they do their best together. There are days when they are sure they won’t make it through, but I love the way that when one of them is down, the other picks them both up. And I love the hopeful ending. (And I love that finally, finally, Robert Morgan has just written a follow-up story which I am now reading/listening to and completely, wholeheartedly LOVING.)
There are no words, no words, no words that I can use to adequately describe to anyone how much I truly love this book. It’s not only the story itself, nor just the author, but the time and the place. Robert Morgan is from the area that he has written about in this story and it is obvious in reading his work; there is an ease with his setting and a comfort as well. He has written an honest depiction of this time and the struggles that it carried as well as the day-to-day activities of living back during this time in our history, which I love. He is able to write from a young female perspective in a shockingly easy way and I love how he wrote Julie Richards. I recommend Gap Creek to fans of historical fiction, fans of American history, fans of the Appalachian region, fans of doggone good books, and fans of great, incredible, wonderful characterization. This book isn’t unicorns and rainbows all the way through but neither was this time in American history, however the hopeful ending is wonderful and I hope adult fiction readers will pick it up and give it an honest chance. As if I haven’t said it a million times, it’s forever a favorite of mine and I will probably re-read it a hundred or maybe a thousand more times.
Gap Creek will appeal to fans of:
Fantastic Setting: Western NC/SC border,
Gap Creek by Robert Morgan
is currently available for purchase.
I have loved this book forever.
I am such a fan of this author.
Does this sound like something you would like?
TALK TO ME.