Monday, November 7, 2011
Book Review: Gap Creek
The novel is set in the Appalachian mountains in the late 1800's and is subtitled "The Story of a Marriage". It starts out with a graphically described illness and that's probably what had me hooked. I like reading about the types of cures and medical treatments used in the past. Lots of times they turn out to still be effective today. Not so in this book. Within the first few chapters two people die from completely different causes. But the reason I kept reading was because it was told from such a "matter of fact" approach. You knew there was caring and a sense of loss, but the main character, Julie, just picked up the pieces and moved on without a whole lot of analysis. And that's the way, Julie, and the rest of the book is told.
Julie is 17 and very much in love when she marries and moves off the family farm to live with her husband a day's walk away. She knew her husband- to- be, Hank, for one month before the marriage. Apparently it was love at first sight, cemented with one walk home from church, a Sunday dinner with her family, and then the rest of their lives together. It wasn't an arranged marriage. She didn't know his family, or much about him except he looked good and appeared pretty smart, or at least a bit crafty. At the time, Julie was working as "hard as a man" and really holding up the family farm. Her mother and her sisters depended on her and she felt she had to work hard to keep them all alive. When Hank comes along, she briefly wonders if she can leave her family, but again, not much analysis there. She goes off with him. He doesn't really promise her a different life. There is no talk of luxuries or easy living. It just "is" and everyone, including Julie's family accepts that.
The rest of the book chronicles their first year of marriage. It's a story of "living off the land" and surviving by shear determination and hard work. I loved reading about how they worked the land , planted crops,and made do with what was there from nature. When adversity strikes, Julie and Hank don't spend time considering options, they just "do". When their only milk cow strangles itself during a flood, they briefly wonder if they can use it for meat. When they decide they can't preserve the meat, they just put their energy into digging a grave and live without milk or milk products. There are no phone calls made to seek advice, there is no crying or wailing, no thought to begging or borrowing milk, there don't search the Internet to try and figure out ways to preserve meat, there are no tweets sent out for help! They just move on. They don't think about the "what ifs" or "if only". They just move on to the next option.
I kept waiting for the big life changing event to happen in this novel. Which is not to say there wasn't a whole lot of things going on. This is a busy plot line. There is death and destruction, life and growth, floods, hunger, violence and love. You name it, it's there, and yet I kept hoping something big would happen that would change Julie's situation. Sort of the "win the lottery" scenario I guess. It didn't.
It wasn't until I got to the end and accepted the fact that the "one big thing" wasn't going to happen that I realized how much did occur. I realized that the relationship between Julie and Hank had huge changes within that first year, not because of any big one thing, but because of a million events and occurrences and opportunities to grow without a lot of outside influence. Hmm...
Maybe there wasn't a lot of change because Julie didn't need to change. She had everything she needed from within and she knew that. Julie is the ultimate balanced Cerato Bach Flower type. She trusts herself and goes with her intuition and just does what needs to be done. She doesn't ask for opinions or weight the consequences, she doesn't analyze from multiple angles she just "does" and moves on without regret.
That doesn't mean she doesn't take advice and help from others. Her life really improves when she reaches out in the community and develops some female friendships. She recognizes the strength that comes from sharing the pain and leaning on others. She just doesn't expect it. She takes the help when it's offered and gives help when she can, but she survives because of what she knows inside. When Hank doesn't turn out to be everything she might have hoped for, she doesn't walk away or try to change him. She accepts what is, keeps herself intact, and moves through it. She doesn't give in or back down, she makes change occur by doing things herself without blaming anyone for what might be lacking. They grow together and she allows that growth to occur without expectations.
Robert Morgan writes from his ancestral roots. This is a work of fiction, but the character Julie, is based on Morgan's Grandmother and the stories he heard about her. Although the story is about life in the Appalachians, I think it's about life at that time period, regardless of where one might have lived. Perhaps we all come from that strength of character and ability to survive. For sure, we all have what we need to survive from within.
Maybe Julie and Hank did "win the lottery" after all. I think they felt like that as they walked back up the mountain. They are definately a different couple a year later, having grown together in a nunber of ways. But they are still the same individuals. The core remains and they have become greater than the sum or their parts. And that, just might be the key to winning the relationship lottery! But you'll have to read it for yourself!