Friday, February 9, 2018

If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

Reviewed by Kristin

Sadie Blue’s in a pickle.  Even her long-dead-daddy says so, with his spirit voice coming to her when she really needs him.  Roy Tupkin is a mean spirited man, and now that Sadie has married him and is carrying his baby, he’s not talking sweet like when he came a courting.  No, Roy is more likely to come at Sadie with his fists, now that she’s his.

Gladys Hicks is Sadie’s granny, but she can’t do anything now that her grandgirl has gone off with Roy.  Gladys raised Sadie since her momma Carly ran off, but she’s got trouble of her own with her house falling down around her.  Sometimes Gladys wonders what will wear out first, her body or her house.

Eli Perkins is the preacher, hoping to raise up his flock with the Lord’s words.  His greatest trial is his spinster sister Prudence, who keeps house for him but also keeps hold of grudges from decades past.  Eli’s also trying to find an experienced teacher for the community of Baines Creek, one who won’t be run off at the first sign of trouble.

Kate Shaw is the new teacher, tall and strong, and much older than most of the young girls they send over from Asheville.  She’s not too sure how she will fit into this insular community, but she quickly finds people who need her, and people who will accept her as she is.

If the Creek Don’t Rise is told by a series of narrators, those mentioned above along with a few others.  Each has their own distinct voice and not everyone sees the same events in the same light.  Although the story is set in 1970, the rough living and lack of resources make it seem that the Depression era simply lasted several decades longer in that little corner of the world.  Outhouses, hole-riddled roofs, and mountain trails impassable by most vehicles seem the norm in Baines Creek.

Sadie is heartbreakingly vulnerable and although she has others looking out for her, she has very few moments where she feels empowered to stand up for herself.  A few characters are so twisted and cruel that they are totally unlikeable, yet Weiss shows little peeks into their pasts that explain in some small way the influences which caused them to be so mean.  Although the novel takes place over perhaps a few months, the pain caused by generations of poverty and violence is obvious.

Despite all the pain and sadness, the narrative flows easily through the well-developed characters.  Weiss uses lovely imagery to paint her story across the pages, evoking the experience of living in a poor Appalachian town with very few opportunities.  I’ll look forward to more from this debut author.

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