Summary and book reviews of Lick Creek by Brad Kessler

Lick Creek

By Brad Kessler

Lick Creek
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2001,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2002,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

Set in the remote mining country of West Virginia in the late twenties, Lick Creek is the compelling story of a fiery young woman, Emily Jenkins, and what happens when progress -- and tragedy -- comes to her family's farm. Brad Kessler has a generous and keen eye for natural landscape and its power in human life. In his profound, dramatic first novel, he explores the complex intersections of faith, tradition, and innovation.

After the coal mine deaths of her father, brother, and the first man she loved, Emily struggles to support herself and her mother. When construction begins on the power lines, she blames the intruders for everything that has gone awry -- for her mother's increasing withdrawal from life and for lives already lost. Then, an electrical worker is struck by lightning. Brought to their farmhouse unconscious and badly injured, Joseph is taken in by Emily's mother, and Emily is seduced by the mystery of his past, his immigration from Russia, his own mother's deportations, and the world of immigrants forced to flee persecution in their homelands.

Moving from romance to high drama, Kessler illuminates the role of electricity in the transformation of rural life and the particular electricity between two vastly different people whose worlds and passions collide.

Chapter One

She wakes in winter to the scrape of iron in the stove, her mother bringing embers back to life from their night's dying. She watches later through frosted panes her father and brother lean into darkened snow, each with his own tin bucket, the two like cutouts of each other, one smaller but with the same stooped back. Their lanterns swing into dark. In April, when the mornings warm, she blankets the pony and trails them from a distance downhollow, all the way where the Lick Creek Road meets the Two Mile Road. She paces the pony so they won't see her behind, and she watches them descend the talus toward the coal camp, and there she'll wait in a copse of poplars, looking down at the rows of homes with men filing from them. She tries to keep track of her father and brother, but they become lost with other lanterns, flitting and wheeling through trees, like a procession of pilgrims carrying candles toward the mouth of the mine.

She found her hollow once on a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
DISCUSSION POINTS

  1. In the opening pages of Lick Creek, Emily tries to imagine what it is like to work in the coal mines. "There's a power inside the earth," her brother Delmar tells her, making her jealous of this mysterious underground world from which women are excluded. In what other ways is Emily's life circumscribed by having been born female? Discuss the contrasting picture Brad Kessler paints of the lives of men and the lives of women.

  2. Emily loves Gianni with a simple trust and spontaneity that stands in stark contrast to the reluctant manner in which she later allows herself to fall for Joseph. How has her ability to love and trust been affected by the coal mine ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Review

Lick Creek does as much justice to its time and place as it does to its vivid cast. Still, the star turn unquestionably belongs to the fiercely independent Emily, with her bittersweet and eloquently told story.

Publishers Weekly

The story's abrupt resolution may disappoint, but Kessler's lyrical prose is seductive, and so is his compassionate portrayal of the hillbilly characters whose lives become a working-class American tragedy.

Author Blurb Annie Dillard; author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Living
Brad Kessler's first novel is crisp, clean, beautiful. He captures a whole world on the page and embodies the heart of his young heroine as if he'd been born to her. His book about love, tragedy, and electricity is a call for exultation.

Author Blurb Stewart O'Nan; author of The Circus Fire
Both lush and delicate, Lick Creek is a historical romance in the very best sense. Brad Kessler's evocation of the electrification of the hills of West Virginia is a promising debut.

Author Blurb Jill Ciment; author of Teeth of the Dog
Brad Kessler's beautifully written novel captures the quintessential American story of the struggle between the powerful and powerless, progress and its cost, immigration and assimilation. It is a riveting account told with unusual insight.

Author Blurb Anita Shreve; author of The Pilot's Wife
Lick Creek hums with electricity, both literally and figuratively. A powerful current laces itself through the novel -- in the writing and in the mesmerizing love story between a coal miner's daughter and a man who brings the wires to a small, flinty settlement in West Virginia.

Reader Reviews
zmaag

This story is a memory of a distant childhood. Filled with real people. Flowers, smells, Landscapes, and people vivid enough to take a 67 year old man back to yesterday and bring a few tears to his eyes. Death, sorrow, anger, and fear become real ...   Read More

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