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GAP CREEK by Robert Morgan


by Robert Morgan

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1999
ISBN: 1-56512-242-9
Publisher: Algonquin

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 and ragged, but never seems alien. This couple’s relentless misfortunes are given no more drama than they need, and all the compassion they deserve.