Here's your chance to meet the readers who joined us in Gap Creek show discussion and read the letters that got them here!
Terri "...These are the stories that my Grandmother — who had a smoke house and an outhouse use to tell me...Robert Morgan helped me to remember those stories."
Jason "Gap Creek, and novels like it.... Show us how to live a life which we have forgotten somehow..."
Isabel "Until I read...Gap Creek, I think I has absolutely no idea of how to imagine real hardship...."
Twanda "I cannot remember the last time I've absolutely had to stop everything to finish a book..."
Learn more about Gap Creek
Gap Creek Discussion Group Member Terri Dollar I am a native N.C. girl who grew up in the foothills of N.C. not far from where the story of Gap Creek is set. I went to college in the mountains of N.C. and have a BA in English and Drama. I am a former public school teacher and am now the program director of Artsplosure-a non-profit Arts organization. I have tow teenaged daughters and have been married to the same man for almost 21 years.
I totally identified with the characters in this book-I have known many people very much like Julie and Hank and their families in my real life. I have actually been to churches like the one they attended in Gap Creek. As a modern day "workaholic" myself I understood her need for the work and the comfort that it brings.The sense of working on a project whether it be a floor that needs washing or a grant that needs writing-and the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing that work-defines so many women both in her time and in mine. She typified the strong woman of the world who doesn't even realize her own strength most of the time and is capable of far more than she ever realized. I saw this in my own mother-who had magical strength like this. It was my daddy who acted big and strong but all of us kids knew that the rock hard strength was within my mama. She was the one who stayed up nights never sleeping a wink when one of us was sick, she was the one who got it done-whatever it was — she made it alright. She — like Julie — was the spiritual strength and emotional base. I loved the scene during the flood where Julie realized that she was truly stronger than Hank but that almost made her feel better and didn't weaken her opinion of him at all — it almost made her feel good to know that he felt that way.
She lived in a time where men were the total heads of their families-but I think the men and the women knew that many times it was the women who truly ruled the roost! I think Hank knew that he needed a strong woman like Julie and that is why he wanted to marry her. He had deep insecurities and needed a woman like Julie. Another thing that I found to be particularly full of symbolism was the way the characters in Gap Creek reacted to the whole life-cycle issue of birth and death. I remember my mother-who grew up on a poor farm much like Julie's, talking about the sharecropper family who lived on their farm. They had twin babies who slept at the foot of their bed but were both smothered to death when the man came in and accidentally threw back the covers on top of them. She talked of how they laid the babies out on the table and cleaned them and dressed them and buried them. I remember that although there was a sadness about this story in her voice — she made a point of saying that that night they had to pick cotton because they had not picked that morning while they were burying the babies. It was like Julie and Hank — who after their baby died — had work to do — the work must go on for survival-both physically and emotionally. Who hasn't used work to escape from what is really happening? My mother used to say that when you get sad and blue-scrub your kitchen floor and it will make you feel better. I think Julie knew this too. I really think that Robert Morgan captured the essence of the southern woman of that time and her need for fellowship and her appreciation of the beauty of the countryside-what other beauty was there? He really made us feel for Julie and her love for Hank who in many ways was very tragic. Hank was a victim of his own temper, ignorance and fears, but a man who ultimately wanted to do the right thing. He did stick with Julie-that was one thing that was so true of the time — marriage was forever. They were both committed to each other. Although he could be violent-we saw his true strength when Julie was sick after the birth of the baby and he took over with the baby. I think he had gained strength from Julie and it carried him through. He said that he didn't go to get his mom because he feared the worst and came back — but I think it was because he changed his mind and had grown up during his year with Julie and knew he was now strong enough — he had it in him — to take care of things.
I realize I am rambling — I loved the book — I love great Southern writing — these are the stories that my Grandmother — who had a smoke house and an outhouse used to tell me. Julie was a woman who did what was necessary for survival — it wasn't always easy or pretty but it had to be done. Women have been doing that for generations and are still doing it. Robert Morgan helped me to remember those stories.
Gap Creek Discussion Group Member Jason Appelman Gap Creek, and novels like it — Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier comes to mind — These books show us how to live a life which we have forgotten somehow, but which the essence of us craves yet.
We find ourselves at the center of these stories, learning to cure hams and fix a wheel, to render lard, and to make love even in the ice cold with no heat but that which we can muster from our bodies.
These books link us to a world so far gone by now as to have already become mythical, and yet it has only been a hundred years since the Gap, whereas our usual mythologies originated before the written work, thousands of years ago.
In reading Gap Creek, we find ourselves connected with this past again, and like some great continental recidivism within, the world and all its parts refocus suddenly. We see clearly now. We turn away from the cell phone ringing, or the noise of the television for a moment, and we see how we are to live.
With this new millennium upon us, I feel, as Julie and Hank must have felt leaving to Gap; that I've been given new life somehow, some of it good and some bad, but life at least; the hardships of a few years behind me and the challenge of making it over that next mountain, but the wind in my lungs and the cold clean air above me, saying this way or that way, and guiding me. For a while anyhow, Gap Creek, and Julie's great strength, have served as my compass.
Gap Creek Discussion Group Member Isabel Legarda
I am a second-year medical student and soon-to-be mother of two. Until I read Robert Morgan's compelling novel Gap Creek, I think I had absolutely no idea of how to imagine real hardship, even though I grew up in an underdeveloped country and saw it all around me and am now living an extraordinarily busy life as a physician-in-training, wife, mother, and woman trudging along on a faith journey that has many peaks and valleys.
Julie's faith journey, complete with its baptisms by fire and water, and confrontations with human weakness in almost every person she encounters, lead her to a renewed faith that reminded me so much of the restored faith I have discovered in med school, despite the expectations of others and the inability of many to believe in or understand my choices. When people say to me, "I don't know how you do it, being in med school with a family," I now feel like saying to them, "Read Gap Creek. I have a dishwasher. I don't have to kill, de-bone, gut, or de-fat any of the chicken, beef, pork, or fish I cook. I can get great drugs and medical care when I'm sick and clean, running hot water when I'm dirty. I have an extraordinary, supportive husband who knows and loves who he is, is free of complexes, and has unshakable faith. I have an amazing daughter who is the most joyful person I have ever known. I have a mind and body that work. I'm 'golden!'" I realized while I was reading this novel that despite my efforts to be grateful for all the conveniences and blessings of the day, I still take so much for granted. When I'm down to the last egg in the carton I am peeved that I have to run next door to buy more — for shame!
In medical school as well as in motherhood, sometimes it's been easy to give in to doubt and fear, to loneliness, to the helpless realization that there's so much pain in the world, and to the feeling that our little lives might not mean quite as much as we think. When Masenier died, Julie was filled with a sense of emptiness at the way the world simply moves on and keeps turning; oblivious to what is most precious and painful in our hearts. Yet she never lost the sense of wonder in that harsh but beautiful world, and it is this sense of wonder that can be a saving, healing grace that sustains a trembling faith such as mine. Morgan wrote an almost mystical passage describing Julie's dance among the falling leaves, in which his repetition of the word leaves over twenty times brought to life the very nature of what he was describing: a myriad of swirling leaves circling all around, with Julie circling among them, uniting her life and motion to theirs. I have had small moments like this, when the sight of a mist-covered peak over a river, or a scattering of stars in the sky over campus, reminds me that life is precious, and we are precious, despite the passage of time, the anonymity of our lives, and the vastness of the world.
The day after I read the chapters describing Masenier's tragic death, the hog-killing, and Mr. Pendergast's horrible funerary preparations — three occasions on which Julie was literally up to her elbows in the most visceral and brutal aspects of life and death —- I experienced something that might be considered the contemporary equivalent. I was required to attend an autopsy at our school's main teaching hospital. Like Julie, I had to confront a tragic death that had occurred the previous night, witness some unsettling procedures performed on the body, and face my own preoccupations about the fragility and meaning of life, all while a new human life was just beginning to grow inside me. I couldn't help staring at the face of the woman on the table, placid and now free of suffering, almost like the peaceful face of a child taking a nap, and thinking of the tiny embryo still nameless and faceless within my body, whose life, unlike this woman's, was just beginning. Watching the medical examiners deftly use their skill to probe through the woman's organs was both impressive and humbling. Bags of tissue and fluid are all that we are; yet we are so much more than the sum of those parts —- our eyes can see beauty in the world, our voices participate in the telling of stories and sharing of laughter, our arms hold lovers and parents and children tenderly and passionately.
I've learned through all my choices and mistakes that holiness, healing and hope are never completely out of reach, although my faith and trust constantly fall and need to be helped to their feet again. Like Julie, I am taught and helped through what I love best —- things like work, and family, community enjoyed over a cup of tea, reading, writing, prayer, the music of many voices united in harmony. Singing, like writing, is one of my favorite forms of prayer. I sing alto, and alto harmonies sung alone can sound strange, sometimes even distinctly unappealing. Together with other singers, however, the alto line suddenly makes perfect sense, and the music can be arrestingly beautiful, especially if we strive and choose to sing our best. I have been blessed with some amazing "singers" of life all around me, both in the real world and in the fictional ones I have the privilege of getting to know.
Reading Gap Creek was a kind of spiritual song for me, in which I could unite my thoughts, my experiences, and my voice to the heroine's and lift them up to a higher plane. That is the great gift of stories, the gift of communion, of sharing in the lives of others — which is why I wanted to come to medical school in the first place. Robert Morgan's novel opened a wonderful passage through time for me, enabling me to enjoy that gift in a way I will not soon forget. How vivid were his descriptions of human experience; no other person has ever made me crave, and actually get up and make, cornbread (and unfortunately, like Julie, we had no jelly!). How well he understands how a woman falls in love, nurses anger against a matriarch, wishes for her husband's sympathetic embrace, resents the sometimes incessant slavery of keeping a home together, needs the company of other kind women, and rejoices in her reserves of strength. How beautifully he writes about gradual conversion, personal transformation, and the healing power of prayer; the scenes in which Hank makes peace between Julie and Ma Richards, and with Timmy Gosnell, and among my favorite in the entire book. Thank you for introducing me to this masterful writer's powerful, meaningful gifts. An artist's greatest asset is compassion, and he is gifted with it abundantly.
Gap Creek Discussion Group Member Twanda McAlister Dear Oprah,
I cannot remember the last time I've absolutely had to stop everything to finish a book in one sitting. From the first page, to the last I was absolutely mesmerized by the strength in the character of "Julie." My favorite, largely, because she represents so much of what I see in myself. She made me ask myself, "If I were living in that time, would I take the same"journey" as she did? And, the answer was, and is, an overwhelming yes. Julie makes me proud to be an independent compassionate and free-willed woman! She gives the true meaning to "Girl Power" :) !
As for the author, Robert Morgan deserves a "Pulitzer Prize," first for detail! Not to mention the ability to carry me (the reader) through this journey; like breath through my nostrils — Constant — Until the moment of freedom that lies in exhaling! I found myself feeling Julie's pain, angst, occasional joy, frustration, pleasure, and ultimately, (the greatest of them all) Julie's rebirth! And, Oprah! How, who, what man, on this earth has ever described childbirth in it's truest form — as he does! Amazing! He must have been a woman in a past life! God's gifts truly manifested themselves in Robert Morgan's words. I was most proud of how Robert presented spiritual growth in his married characters. I've read a lot of books, and unless the book is specifically about God, and spirituality, nobody goes there! This is why I love God so much. Because, he gives us our missions, we receive, and then we embrace the beauty in sharing his "Good News".
Thank you for this opportunity. God's speed to you and your staff.