This Rock by Robert Morgan

This Rock by Robert Morgan was published in 2001, and somehow I missed it.  I have most of Morgan's novels and story collections based in Appalachia: The Blue Valleys, The Mountains Won't Remember Us, The Truest Pleasure, Gap Creek, so when my husband bought this one for me at Christmas, I was certain I had already read it and neighbored it up on the shelf with its cousins.  Upon closer examination, I realized I had neither read it nor owned it, so the husband was a winner.  I happened to be reading it during the recent Conference on Southern Literature and got Morgan to sign my copy (funny story there - he asked how to spell my first name, I politely insisted on the absence of an -h at the end, he promptly wrote the following):

It took me forever to finish this book, and now it has taken me some significant time to comment on it.  It is the story of a family, specifically two brothers, Muir and Moody, and their mother, Ginny (the subject and narrator of The Truest Pleasure).  There is a younger sister, but she figures negligibly in the story.  The chapters alternate between Ginny and Muir, beginning and ending with Ginny's voice.  The book is divided neatly into three sections, each covering one year:  "First Reading: 1921," "Second Reading: 1922," and "Third Reading: 1923."  Muir is the younger brother, 16 years old in 1921, and full of vision for himself and his community; Moody is his aptly-named older brother, who makes a life out of getting into trouble: gambling, bootlegging, and generally being mean.  Ginny sees the truth about her boys and loves them despite their many failings and frustrations.  In section 1, Muir feels the call to preach, and when he fails miserably at it, Ginny remarks: 
But it was like Muir never had a chance that day.  When he was flustered, when he got mad, it was like he couldn't decide what to do with hisself.  He never could remember nothing when he got excited.  He'd rush on ahead of hisself and then forget where he was, forget what he was saying.  I thought my heart was going to stop or tear out of my chest as I watched him fumble in the pulpit. (25)
And when somebody busts up the foundation of the church Muir has been building, and everyone thinks it was Moody, she says:
Moody was my son and I loved him, but he just seemed to get angrier.  I thought I had seen signs in him of softening.  I knowed there was good in him, if he'd just let it come out.  But if he had ruined Muir's work, he was worser, not better.  It was like he was trying to get revenge for what he thought the world had done him.  (259)
Though they experience difficulties and tragedies, Muir and Ginny persevere, and I suppose that dedication to the next step is the biggest portion of what this story, and life in Appalachia, is all about.  There are small hopes, but they can be so easily dampened.  There is a constancy in the land, the mountains, the homeplaces that keep people from despair, and there is, of course, family.  The two intertwine most beautifully at the end, when Ginny and Muir have to face an impossible task, and Muir says:
My grief and my determination made things sharp and the colors firm.  The day had a long slow curve to it which I was going to follow.  It was the shape of what I had to do.  It was the shape of what there was to do.
"Put the grave in the row with Tom and Pa and Jewel," Mama said,  "But leave a space for me." (304)
Isn't that as much as any of us can hope for?  That someone makes room for us in their lives and in our deaths?  This book was slow and quiet.  The voices were even and the characters consistent (although at times, a bit too consistent for my liking).  And if it felt bleak at times, it also felt true most of the time.  Although it wasn't my favorite Morgan, I'm glad to have read it and to place it in the space left for it on my shelves.

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