Morgan (Brave Enemies, 2003, etc.) returns to western North Carolina and the Richards family saga.
Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Green River, under Mt. Cicero, Hank and Julie Richards move their family from Gap Creek to a small, hardscrabble farm. There, they endure the Great Depression and World War II, stoically facing death and disease, hope and triumph. It’s Annie, their younger daughter, who narrates, harking back to the family’s trek from Gap Creek to Green River, road "froze as stiff as chalk," and ending her story as a grown woman birthing a daughter, realizing "having your own baby makes you feel connected...taking part in the future and with the people that come before you." Recreating the rural mountain South not yet 100 years past, Annie tells of Old Pat, a purebred German shepherd given to her brother, Troy, as payment for summer work. She offers stories of Muir and Moody Powell, twins from a nearby farm, one ambitious to preach, the other preferring to gamble and run moonshine. She remembers tramps and hobos, Julie offering at least fresh milk and cornbread even if cupboards were bare. The novel begins in 1943 with Troy’s death, a casualty in a bomber crash in England. Julie’s shattered, and she "sealed up her thoughts and grief inside her and she wouldn’t let any of us touch it." But even the dead live in the soulful narrative. Troy, gentle, artistic, is home on leave and must put down Old Pat after she’s horribly maimed by a firecracker. A tortured misfit stands in church to claim Troy’s death is God’s retribution, and the family sits silently. A troubled veteran, the new husband of Troy’s former fiancee, drags her away from Troy’s post-war burial at gunpoint. Morgan pens an eloquent story of stoicism and pain, endurance and courage, ending, as all life will, with death and birth.
A moving, lyrical saga from a time so distant, yet so near.