Writing a sequel to a popular novel is a risk, especially when the first one was a national bestseller, like Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek, an Oprah Book Club selection.

The Road from Gap Creek will please this gifted storyteller’s legions of fans—as well as those who missed Gap Creek when it was published in 1999. The books need not be read in chronological order. On the contrary, the plaintive and plainspoken poetry infused in both novels allows them to stand alone as separate stories about the same family: Hank and Julie Richards and their four children.

While Gap Creek was narrated by the family’s matriarch, Julie, The Road from Gap Creek is safely in the hands of her youngest daughter, Annie, who has inherited her mother’s indomitable spirit and courage in the face of an endless stream of adversity.

After beginning their married life in South Carolina in Gap Creek, the Richards family has returned home to North Carolina, where the duality of incredible beauty and abject poverty continues to define Appalachian life. From the first pages, Morgan tugs readers into the pathos of a personal tragedy experienced by countless families during the World War II era, heralded by the arrival of a telegram at the family’s doorstep. Still, Morgan does not linger long on grief; instead, by chapter two the story has skipped back to happier days, with the arrival of the family dog, Old Pat, a wise and lovable German Shepherd who is devoted to Annie’s brother Troy.

For teenage Annie, a talented actress in her high school’s theater productions, the allure of life beyond the sleepy and God-fearing Green River community is tempting. Still, her family ties and loyalty are stronger than her dramatic ambitions, and thus, she finds herself post-high school working as a store clerk in a nearby town to help support her struggling Great Depression-era family. Unlike her parents, who plunged into an early and turbulent marriage, the cautious Annie is stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge her lifelong attraction to the devout and idealistic young Muir.

Morgan has crafted another painfully luminous portrait of rural American family life: honest, captivating and resplendent in all its messy glory. Readers will find themselves bereft upon saying goodbye to the Richards clan—and hopeful that Morgan might consider a trilogy.

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