08 December 2008

Review: This Rock by Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan's Gap Creek won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2000 and became a New York Times bestseller. It was one of my top reads that year. Like the earlier book, This Rock is set in the mountains along the North Carolina–South Carolina border, but the events take place about twenty years later, during Prohibition. I picked up the book with high expectations.

Muir and Moody Powell, both on the edge of manhood, are about as different as brothers can be. Muir dreams of building castles and preaching the gospel, while the older Moody likes rum running, gambling, and fighting. Their widowed mother, Ginny, is often at a loss as to how to raise her boys.

The story is told alternately through the voices of Ginny and Muir and focuses on the ways in which the two boys try to make a mark in their small, poor world. The confines of their Appalachian community and the limits of the boys' worldly knowledge lead to painful failures and few, but emotional, successes. Muir's noble aspirations and intense hard work lead to dead ends. Moody's walk on the fast track to wealth and on the rough road to toughness leads to constant trouble. The boys don't understand each other, and their quarrels have heart-rending consequences.

A strong theme is the importance of careful, steady and hard work. Other themes are that families are ultimately the source of support and unconditional love and that, despite the ugly prejudices and politics of the church, personal faith and strong values help those who look for answers.

Unfortunately, the switch in point of view from Ginny to Muir and back again was sometimes odd—either I wanted to stick with the current POV or the switch was off chronologically. In fact, the chronology in general was confusing: At one point I thought a particular character had died years earlier, but then learned that an event related in the middle of the book occurred close to the time of that death. Thus I had to rethink much of the plot.

Brief positive notes: I loved the details of the physical settings. The descriptions of manual labor—from farming to carpentry, stone masonry, and store clerking—were clear and sometimes poetic. The major characters were fully delineated, although others (for example, the boys' sisters) were little more than names. The dangers of rum running during Prohibition added historical interest and perspective.

Do I recommend This Rock? I do. If you have read Gap Creek, then, despite its flaws, This Rock is a must read. The novel will appeal to those who like an Appalachian setting, fans of Morgan, and perhaps those who are interested in families and family dynamics.

If you are new to Morgan, I recommend Gap Greek without reservations. If you liked the feeling, mood, and ambiance of Cold Mountain, then you'd be taken with Gap Creek.

Note: Morgan's novel The Truest Pleasure is the first in this series of Carolina mountain novels. I haven't read it.

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2001
ISBN-13: 9781565123038
Rating: B


Anonymous,  12/8/08, 8:53 AM  

I think I need to read Gap Creek first. Thanks for the review - I love Southern literature.

Beth F 12/8/08, 9:03 AM  

I do recommend Gap Creek first. This isn't a series in a strict sense, but there are some overlapping characters.

Shelley 12/8/08, 9:27 AM  

I loved Gap Creek. I'll have to try this one.

Anonymous,  12/8/08, 10:20 PM  

umm! I have not read Gap Creek :) So I will read that first .. :)

Anonymous,  12/16/08, 4:28 PM  

I also loved Gap Creek. I wonder if I would like this one as well. Thanks!

Anonymous,  12/21/08, 9:00 PM  

I read (and quite enjoyed) The Truest Pleasure for the first time this year; that's the only Morgan I've read. I wasn't aware it was part of any kind of a series. I just Mooched Gap Creek. :)

I'd definitely recommend reading The Truest Pleasure.

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