Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Way back in 1999, I read a book I loved so much I made everyone I knew read it. I still think about that book and its characters, and I know I'm not alone in my love for it. This month, a dozen years later, Algonquin Books is releasing Robert Morgan's Gap Creek in a new paperback edition. Now's your chance to read this stellar novel.
Here's the summary:
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 to slaughter the hogs and nurse the dying. People are weak, and there is so much to do. She is just a teenager when her little brother dies in her arms. That same year she marries and moves down into the valley where floods and fire and visions visit themselves on her, and con men and drunks and lawyers come calling.Because I read Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage so long ago, I can't write a review, but I can talk about what I remember and why it was such a win for me. When I read the book, I wasn't aware of Morgan's earlier novel, The Truest Pleasure, and thus I can assure you that you can read Gap Creek as a standalone.
Julie and her husband discover that the modern world is complex and that it grinds ever on without pause or concern for their hard work. To survive, they must find out whether love can keep chaos and madness at bay.
Robert Morgan's latest novel, Gap Creek, returns his readers to the vivid world of the Appalachian high country. Julie and Hank's new life in the valley of Gap Creek in the last years of the nineteenth century is more complicated than the couple ever imagined. Sometimes it's hard to tell what to fear most-the fires and floods or the flesh-and-blood grifters, drunks, and busybodies who insinuate themselves into their new lives. Their struggles with nature, with work, with the changing century, and with their disappointments and triumphs make this a riveting follow-up to Morgan's acclaimed novel, The Truest Pleasure.
Julie and Hank are good people. They work hard, they love each other, and they want to do right. When they leave their families to walk across the state border to live in Gap Creek, they are unprepared for even the small bit of worldliness found there. They aren't stupid, but Julie and Hank are innocent and uneducated. They trust people a little too readily and may accept their situation a bit too easily. Their time in Gap Creek tries their love, their physical strength, and their spirit. Your heart goes out to them, and you want to rush inside the pages to give them advice and to support them.
Beside the realistic characters and emotionally engaging story, Gap Creek highlights Morgan's exceptional skills at creating a setting. The Carolina mountain country is so vividly a part of the book, you feel as if you could hear the birds and smell the wildflowers. I can still picture the way Julie and Hank's cabin looked and remember the details of cooking and other chores of everyday living.
Part of the Gap Creek's success is that it's told from Julie's point of view and in dialect. Morgan found the perfect balance: He captures the local speech patterns but doesn't lose the modern reader by making the book too difficult to read.The opening paragraph gives you a sense of the style:
I know about Masiener because I was there. I seen him die. We didn't tell anybody the truth because it seemed so shameful, the way he died. It was too awful to describe to other people. But I was there, even though I didn't want to be, and I seen it all.Gap Creek is very much a character-driven novel, but Julie and Hank's life is far from undramatic. If you like Southern fiction, period pieces, and stories about ordinary people struggling to survive, you'll love the book.
Gap Creek was the recipient of several awards and honors: the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for 2000, a Notable Book by the New York Times, an Oprah Book Club selection, and the Appalachian Writers Association's Book of the Year for 2000. For more on Robert Morgan, visit his website.
Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.