Julie and Hank were just teenagers when they married and moved to Gap Creek in the western wilderness of South Carolina. This was the turn of the 19th century, and their story was told in "Gap Creek."
This sequel begins almost 40 years later; they have moved north to Green River, N.C., and their story is being told by their youngest daughter, Annie. "I can't start a novel until I've found the voice," author Robert Morgan said, and "once I get the voice, the story tells itself."
Writing is not that easy, but when you read it, it seems effortless. Annie's voice is simple, honest and very direct. "The thing about Mama was that she'd never tell you how she felt," she begins. "It made Papa mad that Mama wouldn't say nothing when her feelings was hurt or she had the blues."
It is 1943 when Julie learns that her youngest, Troy, has been killed in the war. The story now flashes back to when Annie was a little girl, living with Mama and Papa, sister Effie and older brother Vellmer; Troy had not yet been born. The story does a good bit of jumping around in time -- we see Annie as a child; as a 13-year-old, just beginning to attract boys; we see her married; we go back to her earliest feelings about Muir, the boy she married after having resisted him for years. We get to know Troy, too, and the brave, remarkably intelligent dog he raised, Old Pat, who plays an important part in the novel.
This moving back and forth is not as confusing as it sounds. In fact, the shifting between the early days of Annie's life to her later joy and fulfillment as a mother adds greatly to the impact of what is, basically, a fairly simple story. Simple in the sense that nothing spectacular happens; people do what people do -- argue, fight, grieve, laugh, fall in love, die. But in the hands of a storyteller and poet, they tell the story of what America was like. It's western North Carolina, that's true, but a gifted writer can make anyone's story one that speaks to us all.