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Gap Creek (1999)

by Robert Morgan

Series: Gap Creek (1)

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2,722524,342 (3.54)68
A novel on the harsh life in the Appalachian Mountains at the turn of the century. The heroine is Julie Harmon whose work load includes hauling water, butchering a hog, rendering lard, plucking a turkey, baking and preserving--all described in detail.
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🚨 Trigger warnings: domestic violence (not throughout); graphic descriptions of animal killing/death; loss of loved ones.

I chose this book from a Goodwill (thrift store) book haul, so I had little knowledge about it. I chose it because it’s set at the turn of the 19th century in the Appalachian high country and I’m a sucker for mountain descriptions and settings.

It was a fast read and although there were sections that I felt dragged on for too long, I found it honest, raw, and true to the struggles of poor people, especially women, at the time.

I felt like all my senses were engaged…I could feel the relentless cold and the exhaustion of having to work in it. I could “smell” the putrid smell of eviscerated animals and damp old cellars.

I later read some of the Goodreads reviews and I would like to address some of the negative remarks and my point of view on them:

- “The author was male and should have not written from the woman’s point of view:” I have felt this way with other books but not with this one. I had absolutely no issues with the author’s insight and ability to describe the main character’s thoughts, struggles, relationships, and personality. I actually think he did a pretty good job in developing the female characters. Julie is a product of a deep connection to an indifferent environment where the weather can kill you and the earth does not always produce what you need…or takes it away. She is tough but also always hopeful. I’m wondering if what other’s view as “not understanding women” is more likely to do with not understanding the author’s portrayal of poor women’s experience at the end of the 19th century in rural mountains where you have to grow or hunt what you need.

Graphic descriptions of animals being killed: It’s true. It’s graphic, but not gratuitous. I think that we are so disconnected from how the meat we eat gets to our mouth (if you are a carnivore or omnivore) that reading descriptions of the intense works that goes into killing a hog, cleaning it, cutting it, and rendering the fat can surely take you over the edge. I totally get not wanting to read about it (this book is definitely not for you!); however, there is no way to sugarcoat the act of killing, the smells associated with it, and the work that it takes to end up with a pork chop on your plate. I also think it was crucial to understanding the intense amount of work Julie had to do to ensure survival. She had no supermarket to go to!

- The book is too sad…nothing good happens in it: It is all….struggle! I agree. They can’t catch a break! But there are moments…nuggets…of something precious in all the struggle. Despite the poverty the back breaking work, the anxieties, the disappointments, the losses, Julie perseveres…there’s “hope.” It’s just subtle that’s all.

Still…this is no “Cold Mountain” lol (I’m not being fair…I know!). I felt there was something missing and not well developed. The book cover says “The Story of a Marriage” and this felt misguided to me in a way that I can’t quite qualify.

❤️ Favorite quote:

“When you are straining you have a short temper and a sharp tongue” ( just ask my sister in law and husband when I was trying to come out of the Grand Canyon and it was all uphill!)

This is not a happy ending type of read and it may make you depressed….I tend to like these type of books and it was a short read so win-win. ( )
  Eosch1 | Jan 2, 2022 |
This was a good book, kind of average. I enjoyed it because it had many types of stories about rough life in the mountains. Some of the stories seemed to copy what I had heard from my granny about our ancestors. One story I can't mention because it would be a spoiler. The other stories about trying to find salt when there was a shortage, I had heard before. It's a story about marriage and all the hard times you go through as a couple. These days our hard times seem like nothing compared to the work they had to do back then. It was especially hard for the women. Giving birth, cooking, cleaning, sitting with sick people, it was a different time and not an easy time. The book started off kind of startling and I would say that was probably the best part of the entire book. I liked reading it though it reminded me of reading someone's old genealogy papers. ( )
  RamonaByrd | Dec 10, 2021 |
In our modern world, we have no concept of how easy life is. This book drives that point home with every page. The water we so unconsciously get from the tap would have to be fetched at the spring, and maybe boiled, depending on conditions. The load of laundry we so carelessly throw in before leaving for the day used to take a full day's hard physical labor. The bread we pull out of the plastic sleeve would have to be hand-made with the flour that we milled and maybe the buttermilk that we churned after milking the cow, then put in the stove that we heated with the wood that we split, and on and on in a cycle of endless chores. Gap Creek is about work, both physical and emotional. Told from the view point of 17-year-old Julie Harmon in turn of the century (1900) Appalachia, the book describes the move from her own family where she did the work of a man due to her father's illness and death to her new home with her husband Hank where she still does the lion's share of work to help them make a start. Hank gets a job making bricks for a new mill, so Julie sets up housekeeping away from her family in an isolated area. This first home is actually in the cottage of an old widower who offered to let them stay there in exchange for meals and housekeeping. When the odious Mr. Pendergast dies due to burns from a house fire, their situation becomes even more precarious due the couple's naivete and the fact that they have no legal claim on the house and could be considered squatters. They live in fear of heirs showing up and are duped twice by people who claim to be them or represent them, and lose the only cash they had. Meanwhile they face fire, a freeze, flooding and famine, one calamity after another. The emotional work here is negotiating this new marriage, challenging in the best of times, but almost insurmountable in the obstacles they face. Julie is determined to be a good wife and keep Hank happy or at least stable, even after he loses his job due to a temper tantrum, lashes out at her verbally and physically and makes poor decisions. She is clever in the ways she appeases him and outsmarts him, but always with a loving intent. The story is simple and told in spare, but lyrical prose. Julie describes her relationship to work: "As I scrubbed the floor, I was scrubbing the world. And I was scrubbing my mind to make it clear. It was work that made me think clear and work that made me humble....it was with my hands and my back and shoulders that I could say how I feel." (122) Examples of just how strong she is include single-handedly butchering a pig (little too much detail involved -- like when they make head cheese in Little House on the Prairie!) and going through labor and delivering her own baby alone. ("This is work meant for me from the beginning of time" 284) So many situations should do her in, but she perseveres and the book offers hope, though not optimism. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
Spoilers ahead

Gap Creek by Robert Morgan was also a free friday book and it was an Oprah Book of the Month book as well. Oprah, you did not pick a winner here. The story is about the first year of marriage between a young couple in 1900 South Carolina. It started out strong, with Julie being an unusually hard working and dedicated woman, and that doesn’t change. But at some point she totally stops standing up for herself. At one point of the story she gets conned and when her husband finds out he slaps her in the face and calls her a “stupid heifer” and what does she do? NOTHING!! If i was her i would slapped him right back and walked out the door. And the whole rest of the book her husband is temperamental and just about useless. Until the end when he kind of redeems himself (not really) when he takes care of Julie and their sick baby after Julie birthed the baby at home, by herself. And in the end they lose everything the worked for and wind up leaving their home. WTF. ( )
  artdamnit_reads | Jul 29, 2020 |
This was a hard book to read. It's the fictionalized story of the author's grandparents' first year of marriage and what a hardscrabble year it was. Like the old adage 'if it weren't for bad luck they would have no luck at all'. Fire, floods, bad mother-in-law, death of an infant; they had it all. I'm glad I finished they book but had I known I probably wouldn't have started it at all. Certainly not Little House on the Prairie. ( )
  book58lover | Jul 3, 2019 |
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Robert Morgans Gap Creek is een adembenemende liefdesroman. Eenvoudig en teder verteld.
For my daughter Laurel
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I know about Masenier because I was there.
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A novel on the harsh life in the Appalachian Mountains at the turn of the century. The heroine is Julie Harmon whose work load includes hauling water, butchering a hog, rendering lard, plucking a turkey, baking and preserving--all described in detail.

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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 by. (0-7432-0363-1)
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Average: (3.54)
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