In Gap Creek Jill Hill, It is the cusp of the twentieth century in rural North Carolina as seventeen year old Julie Harmon begins her narration of life in the harsh, unforgiving Appalachian Mountains. An uneducated farm girl, she tells her story in simple, short sentences which, even as they describe the heart wrenching tragedies that shape her life, are told with a calm, detached voice.
Julie is a tough-as-nails young woman who works as hard as a man, chopping wood and performing other backbreaking tasks as her father’s strength fails. Calamity strikes early in the novel when Julie’s young brother, the darling of the family, gets sick.
Shortly before he dies he begins coughing up worms in a gruesome scene. More difficulties befall the family as Julie’s father dies soon after her brother, leaving Julie to further bear the family’s burdens.
When Hank, a handsome South Carolinian, enters the scene, it seems things are looking up for Julie. Julie lyrically describes their first kiss, “This is not me. This is better than me. This is better than I deserve.” Such descriptions peppered throughout the novel are a welcome reprieve.
Hank and Julie marry after a brief courtship and head to Gap Creek, South Carolina where they move into the home of an ill-tempered elderly man. In exchange for lodging, Julie keeps house while Hank begins working at a brickyard.
The honeymoon doesn’t last long for this couple as hardships hit them from every angle. Hank loses his job and slips into depression and Julie becomes pregnant as the couple becomes increasingly impoverished.
Still, there is hope, and Julie is a pillar of strength as she grows into a woman, learning to deal with the unexpected events of live. A North Carolinian himself, author Robert Morgan definitely knows his terrain and has done his research. While the myriad catastrophes that take place in this short novel are excessive,
Morgan maintains a direction as themes of suffering and loss ultimately give way to perseverance and hope.
Jill Hill narrates the audio book with a convincing accent that will have you thinking and talking with a drawl once you’ve finished listening. Her performance of Julie’s stark sentences captures the tone perfectly and will make you forget that Julie is indeed a fictional character.