Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gap Creek, by Robert Morgan

My part-time job the last couple years in college was reshelving books in the main campus library. I remember coming across a series in the "how to write books" range that was very fascinating; it was something like THE REAL 1870s, THE REAL 1910s, etc. and its intention was to give period-piece writers authentic details of life during the eras of which they were writing. I remember checking out several of them and being far more fascinated with the details than I would have been any fiction written from them.

I don't recall the actual series name, but I'll bet Robert Morgan does, because GAP CREEK contains at least 40% pure source detail from THE REAL 1890s volume. Want to know what death from intestinal worms looks like? How to butcher a hog? How to birth a baby without help? Hand-wash a load of clothes? Scald, pluck, and dress a turkey? Morgan has you covered, excruciating detail by excruciating detail, leaving absolutely nothing out. If he had, this would have been the shortest of short stories.

The blurb indicates that this is "the story of a marriage," but it's really the story of one baffling 17-year-old girl who marries a fellow she's met twice, moves off the family mountain to the scary valley, and keeps on working hard despite flood, fire, and pestilence. Literally. She battles all three in excruciating detail, some more than once.

There's something of a plot, but it doesn't come to much. I think we're supposed to sympathize with the main female character through all her troubles, but it's hard to even understand what motivates her because she is written so woodenly. The supporting characters are little more than paper dolls-- the husband's behavior is so irrational that he's almost robotic.

The author is from the beautiful western North Carolina Appalachian area where this takes place, so the setting is very true-to-form, but this is the only part of "write what you know" he's taken to heart. I'm sure he enjoyed researching 1890s Appalachia, but when it comes to writing fiction about it, I would much prefer THE REAL 1890s.

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