Synopses & Reviews
Jessica Ronky Haddad Style Weekly Transports readers directly to the wild and forgotten mountains of North Carolina and to the secret, hopeful places in a young man¹s heart. From the author of Gap Creek the international bestseller and winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for fiction comes the gripping story of two brothers struggling against each other and the confines of their 1920s Appalachian Mountain world. Muir and Moody Powell are as different as Jacob and Esau. Muir is an innocent, shy young man with big dreams and not the slightest idea of what to do about them. Moody, the older, wilder brother, takes to moonshine and gambling and turns his anger on his brother. Through it all, their mother, Ginny, tries to steer them right, while dealing with her own losses: her husband, her youth, and the fiery sense of God that had once ordered her world. When Muir discovers his purpose in life, the consequences are far-reaching and irrevocable: a community threatens to tear itself apart and his family is forever changed. This Rock is the most ambitious and accomplished novel yet from an author whose sentences ³at their finest . . . burn with the raw, lonesome pathos of Hank Williams¹s best songs² (The New York Times Book Review). ³Homespun pleasure.² Nelson Taylor, Providence Journal ³Hell-bent and excellent . . . I can¹t shake the first scene. . . . resonant . . . moving.² Katherine Whittemore, The New York Times Book Review ³Morgan¹s prose is sharp and saturated with details . . . [imbued] . . . with a sort of lyrical sheen . . . both moving and spiritual.² Michael Paulson, Bookpage Robert Morgan, the author of the award-winning novel Gap Creek, is a native of the North Carolina mountains, where he was raised on land settled by his Welsh ancestors.
"Morgan offers another gritty tale of life in the rural South....Morgan delivers a surprisingly compelling narrative, with Muir's flawed adventures providing the momentum....Morgan writes very simply about hard times and deep faith, and this story will resound with modern readers." Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
"In Morgan's hands...details become the stuff of stern, gripping drama....You begin to feel, as you sometimes do when reading Cormac McCarthy's or Harry Crews's early novels, that the author has been typing with blood on his hands and a good deal of it has rubbed off onto your shirtsleeves." The New York Times Book Review
"Although the novel suffers from overdetailing, episodic pacing and seemingly pointless anecdotal tangents that leave many loose ends dangling in the mountain breeze, it's an entirely pleasant read and a testimony to the power of faith and integrity in the face of life's severest hardships." Publishers Weekly
"Formerly Oprah-selected Morgan sticks with familiar characters and themes in a lightweight novel....[He] venture[s] into interesting thematic territory. But, like his patchwork book overall, his look at the conflict between faith and organized religion is spotty and incomplete....Simple in a literal way. Morgan's fans will be pleased." Kirkus Reviews
"Though Morgan still pursues his favorite theme, the redeeming power of work, his new book is both more ambitious and more uneven than Gap Creek. Not a lightweight Bildungsroman, this novel instead illuminates the painful movement from boy to man. As such, it might not satisfy earlier Morgan readers..." Library Journal
"Morgan shows what it was like to be human in a time and place now far removed from modern America. He creates living, breathing souls who, as transparent as their dreams and fears may seem today, demand to be taken seriously." The Orlando Sentinel
"This historical novel will please both students and teachers looking for supplemental fiction when introducing 20th-century Southern gothics." School Library Journal
From the author of Gap Creek
an international best-seller and winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award comes the gripping story of two brothers struggling against each other and the confines of their mountain world in 1920s Appalachia.
The Powell brothers Muir and Moody are as different as Cain and Abel. Muir is an innocent, a shy young man with big dreams. Moody, the older and wilder brother embittered by the death of his father, by years of fighting his mother, and by his jealousy of Muir's place in the family takes to moonshine and gambling and turns his anger on his brother. Muir escapes by wandering, making his way around the country in attempts to find something an occupation, a calling to match his ambition.
Through it all, their mother, Ginny, tries to steer her boys right, all the while remembering her own losses: her husband (whose touch still haunts her), her youth, and the fiery sense of God that once ordered her world.
When Muir, in a drunken vision, decides that his purpose in life is to clear a space on a hill and build a stone church with his own hands, the consequences of his plan are far-reaching and irrevocable: a community threatens to tear itself apart, men die, and his family is forever changed. All that's left in the aftermath are the ghosts and the memories of a new man.
Jessica Ronky Haddad Style Weekly Transports readers directly to the wild and forgotten mountains of North Carolina and to the secret, hopeful places in a young man¹s heart. From the author of Gap Creek
About the Author
Robert Morgan, author of the award-winning novel Gap Creek, is a native of the North Carolina mountains, where he was raised on land settled by his Welsh ancestors.
Reading Group Guide
A SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION
READING GROUP GUIDE
From the author of the bestselling Gap Creek comes the story of two boys coming-of-age in the isolated, fundamentalist world of 1920s Appalachia. Moody is the wild one, forever in trouble, given to spending time with prostitutes and bootleggers. Muir has big dreams of leaving home and becoming a preacher or builder, but is shy and unsure of what steps to take. Their widowed mother, Ginny, struggles to move beyond her losses and keep the family together.
After several failed attempts to find his calling, Muir resolves to build a stone church with his own hands on the family land. The consequences of his plan are more grave and far-reaching than anyone could have anticipated. In colorful and detailed prose that alternates between the point of view of Muir and Ginny, Robert Morgan brings a remote time and place to life and tells a moving story.
1. Constantly clashing with one another, Muir and Moody often seem as different as two brothers could be, both in temperament and action. Are there similarities between them as well that emerge over the course of the novel? At what moments do the two come together? Why?
2. As Muir and Moody begin to forge their own paths at a young age, Ginny appears to be a helpless bystander. And yet, as she herself comes to see, "A mama has more influence than she realizes sometimes" (page 258). What effect does Ginny have on her sons' lives and how does she make her influence felt?
3. In opposing Muir's plans to build a new church, Preacher Liner accuses him of seeking personal glory. "Pride goeth before a fall," the older man warns, quoting from Scripture. Does Muir's sense of pride hamper him in his various endeavors? If so, how? Does it ever help him?
4. Why do you suppose there are no chapters told from Moody's point of view? How do we gain a feel for Moody's personality and motivations? When does his character take shape?
5. What effect does the author's use of rural, Southern vernacular have on our experience of the narrative?
6. Manual labor is at the heart of life for the Powell family and for the surrounding community. What is the function of Morgan's highly detailed descriptions of the work that is done on the land, particularly by Muir?
7. If work is one central element of existence in Morgan's depiction of 1920s North Carolina, religion is surely another. What sort of connection is implied between labor and faith? How do the two become linked in Muir's mind?
8. Shootings, knifings, beatings, logging accidents, typhoid: random violence and untimely death seem to be immutable facts of life in This Rock. What role does violence -- intentional and otherwise -- play in the story? Are the victims of savagery generally responsible for their fate, or are they merely unlucky?
9. Of all the incidents of violence that Muir witnesses, the episode involving the elephant at the parade -- coupled with the elephant's eventual destruction -- may be the most powerful and disturbing. How does Muir react to this gruesome event? Why do you think this becomes a defining moment for him?
10. Forgiveness occupies an important place in the Powells' Baptist faith. As Ginny repeatedly reminds her sons, when a wrong has been done, the Christian thing to do is "forgive seven times seventy" (page 236). Both Moody and Muir are strong willed and have a tendency toward anger. When do they overcome their stubbornness and practice the forgiveness they have been taught? What is the result?
11. Muir could be described as driven and somewhat of a visionary. Do you think he has a sense of being chosen? And, if so, for what? Even on his small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains Muir dreams big dreams. Do you think Ginny encourages him to pursue these dreams? Why do you think Muir's frustration builds? In what ways could This Rock be seen as a kind of an apprenticeship novel?
12. In the Charlotte Observer, Fred Chappell writes: "This is a book about the human soul at war with itself, although it turns out [the author has] imagined the soul as two different people -- two brothers. One has very strong religious convictions and visions and a dream of an ideal life. The other is more or less trashy and violent like the rest of us, self-destructive and not real smart." Do you agree with his statement? How is this struggle resolved?