Children’s author Kessler’s first adult novel, set in West Virginia in the late ’20s, talks of love, hate, and other powerful things.
Electricity, for instance. High-tension towers are going up all over the nation, and in rural West Virginia, Emily Jenkins and her widowed mother unexpectedly find themselves involved. A power company wants to buy a right-of-way through their farm. Thirty dollars is what they get, plus the kind of citified trouble that mountain people are ill-equipped to handle. It begins for 18-year-old Emily with the attentions of Robert Daniels, company supervisor and conscienceless womanizer. He turns her head, easy enough to do given her lack of sophistication, her passionate nature, and her hunger for experience. He pours liquor into her, attempts to seduce her, ends by raping her—and so converts her into an implacable enemy. Unable to get at him, however, Emily turns her fury against the power company, engaging in a campaign of minor though relentless sabotage. In the midst of this a young lineman, Joseph Gershon, is struck by lightning and tumbles from high atop one of the towers. Badly hurt, he’s carried to the Jenkins farm—and in effect, well, lightning strikes Emily, too. She helps her mother nurse Joseph back to health, and this oddest of couples—the impetuous hillbilly and the wary but warmhearted lineman, who’s also an immigrant and a Jew—fall desperately in love. But fate and Robert Daniels are not through with Emily yet. The towers completed, the company schedules a celebratory dinner at which Daniels, Joseph and Emily meet, clash, and alter the direction of their lives forever.
Lick Creek does as much justice to its time and place as it does to its vivid cast. Still, the star turn unquestionably belongs to the fiercely independent Emily, with her bittersweet and eloquently told story.