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Published September 20, 2017

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  • Book Giveaway:
    If the Creek Don't Rise
  • Quote:
    The only completely consistent people are the dead
If the Creek Don't Rise
If the Creek Don't Rise
by Leah Weiss

Paperback (22 Aug 2017), 320 pages.
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN-13: 9781492647454
BookBrowse:
Critics:
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With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, If The Creek Don't Rise is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

He's gonna be sorry he ever messed with me and Loretta Lynn

Sadie Blue has been a wife for fifteen days. That's long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out.  When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline...if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek.

Sadie Blue

I struggle to my feet, straighten my back, lift my chin, then he hits me again. This time I fall down and stay down while he counts, "…eight, nine, ten." He walks out the trailer door and slams it hard. The latch don't catch, and the door pops open. I lay on the floor and watch Roy Tupkin cross the dirt yard and disappear into the woods.

My world's gone sideways again.

"Sadie girl." Daddy's spirit voice comes soft from behind my open eyes. "You got yourself in a pickle this time. No two ways about it. That husband of yours won't stop till you and your baby draw your last breath. You don't even look like yourself no more. He broke bout every piece of sweet in you. You gonna let him break your spirit, too? You gonna do nothing?"

I'm tired, Daddy. Wore out. Roy Tupkin don't just beat me, he beats me down. Let me rest a spell. I don't know if I can lift my head just yet.

Now Daddy's voice comes from the yard where a lone wind rattles late-summer oak leaves and sounds like hollow bones. "If I could follow the bastard and kill him for you, I would, sweet girl, but it don't work like that." His voice drifts toward the rusty red truck up on blocks. "Don't lay there too long, Sadie. You don't need rest." His words fade. "You need…"

What, Daddy? What do I need? I listen but he's gone.

Percy scampers in from the hunt with a dead chipmunk. He drops his gift by my hand. When I don't move, he nudges it close till I raise a finger and touch fur that's still warm. Then he crawls on the rise of my belly and curls up. Purrs vibrate clean through to my spine.

I gotta get away, Percy, but don't know how. Gotta be careful.

Percy listens good but he's short on advice. I can't think what to do right off with my brain muddled from this morning's beating, so I gather strength to move. Shadows grow longer, and cold air glides across the doorjamb, giving me goose bumps. I roll over gentle to my side, scattering pieces of the green plastic radio I got working at Mooney's Rusty Nickel. Little Percy slides off without complaint. I put my palms on the floor and push to my knees. My arms tremble. My heart pounds in my ears. A bloody smear on the floor marks where my head landed. I brush sticky hair off my temple, hold on to the counter and pull up, dizzy, one hand on my baby bump. I don't know I'm crying salty tears till they sting the cut on my cheek.

"You know what you gotta do." Daddy's voice is back burrowing inside my ear.

I do? Tell me and I'll do it.

"You'll figure it out. You got smarts you don't even know bout yet."

Daddy loves me better in death than he ever did in life. In life, when I was ten, with my hair in crooked braids, me sitting on a overturned bucket in a corner of the kitchen, watching the men round the table gamble, he threw a night with me in I f the Cre e k Don' t Ri s e 3 the poker pot instead of five dollars he don't have. Granny and Aunt Marris never heard what he done, and I don't say cause they'd take a belt to him and take me away from him when he needs me. Daddy won the hand. Said he counted on it. But he woulda made good on his bet if he'd lost. He won't go back on his word.

Daddy hung bones on the walls inside our house like some folks hang give-away calendars or pictures of Jesus. They was mostly bleached-out skulls he found hunting or tending the still. He ran twine through their empty eyes and wound the twine on a ten-penny nail high on the wall. He had the skulls of fox, bear, bobcat, and panther, and the rib cage of a bear. Daddy even had a man's skull in the lot. Found it in a cave near a rockslide that pinned the poor soul down till he wasted away. Said it was likely a miner and a dreamer looking for rubies and stones. At night, under moonlight streaming through the front window, those bones glowed like pieces of ghosts.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from If the Creek Don't Rise by Leah Weiss. Copyright © 2017 by Leah Weiss. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Life in 1970 Appalachia (and fictional Baines Creek) was undeniably hard and harsh. What did the novel tell you about that historic time and place that you expected? What did you learn that surprised you?
  2. Sadie Blue was the principal character in the book, with her story told in three chapters. Did you root for her from the start? What were her key moments of growth? Who were her mentors and supporters? What did they do that helped her grow a stronger backbone?
  3. In what ways were Sadie Blue and her grandmother, Gladys Hicks, and Sadie and her mother, Carly, alike? In what ways were they different?
  4. Gladys and Marris were best friends. Who needed the other the most? Who gave the greatest purpose to their relationship?
  5. Did you think Gladys was oblivious to her mean behavior? Why did she feel entitled to that mean behavior? How do you think she would have described herself?
  6. Who were the most lovable or admirable characters? What made them that way? What were their strengths and weaknesses? In what ways were they important to Sadie's salvation?
  7. Preacher Eli Perkins never quite believed he was good enough for his job. How did that quality make you feel about him? How do you think he performed his job?
  8. Three characters that are hard to love are Prudence Perkins, Roy Tupkin, and Billy Barnhill. Did you find any reasons to empathize with them? What were the pivotal moments in their past that shaped their personalities? How do you think you would have fared if you were born into their families and stations of life?
  9. When Kate Shaw arrived in Baines Creek, she expected to be doing the teaching. What were the things she learned instead?
  10. Birdie's Books of Truths: What insights did they give you into life in Appalachia and the gifts Birdie possessed?
  11. What role did Tattler Swann play in the book? Was he a good spokesman for Jerome Biddle? If so, why?
  12. This book is written in first person, present tense. Did that choice by the author make the story more intimate? If so, in what ways?
  13. Which characters were most capable of loving? In what ways did they demonstrate that?
  14. A number of murders were committed in the book. Do you think any of them were justified? If so, which ones and why?

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Some of the recent comments posted about If the Creek Don't Rise. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Please be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!

A number of murders were committed in the book. Do you think any of them were justified? If so, which ones and why?
None were justified, but one can understand when a woman has been subjected to a long session of physical abuse, - dorothyh

As a debut novel, how does this compare to others?
I liked the characters, story line as it brought to light the issues in the story area. a great debut novel. A page turner. - dorothyh

Did you find any reasons to empathize with Prudence, Roy and Billy? What were the pivotal moments in their past that shaped their personalities? How do you think you would have fared if you were born into their families and stations of life?
At first, Prudence was portrayed two-dimensionally as an angry, bitter spinster. However, there was more depth to her than fist met the eye. Her mother died when she was young, and she lacked a strong female role model. She fell in love with Thomas, ... - madelonw

Did you root for Sadie Blue from the start? What were her key moments of growth? Who were her mentors and supporters? What did they do that helped her grow a stronger backbone?
I struggled with Sadie Blue's actions - especially when she kept returning to Roy - but I guess I never gave up on her. I think Sadie's growth came when she met Kate and realized that she could have a life out of the holler. She was always somewhat... - marys

Did you think Gladys was oblivious to her mean behavior? Why did she feel entitled to that mean behavior? How do you think she would have described herself?
I don’t think Gladys would have described herself. She would have said that it was a stupid question and given the person asking the brushoff. I would describe Gladys as broken. She was beaten dead down by life. She had built a wall to protect ... - jillf

Gladys and Marris were best friends. Who needed the other the most? Who gave the greatest purpose to their relationship?
I think they needed each other in their own way. Their need went back and forth - dorothyh

How would Gladys justify her meanness and rudeness if someone was bold enough to ask her?
I agree with the other posters that it probably wouldn't have been a complete or honest answer, but knowing the background of her prickly personality was interesting. - kathleenk

In what ways were Sadie Blue and her mother and grandmother alike? In what ways were they different?
Gladys and Sadie are much the same in that they both married the wrong man and endured their abuse, When they had enough they both dealt with the problem in the same way, only Sadie's came to a better resolution. Both stayed on the mountain, but ... - reene

Preacher Eli Perkins never quite believed he was good enough for his job. How did that quality make you feel about him? How do you think he performed his job?
He tried his best with caring for his people by getting teachers, but he should have been more involved in reporting the abuse he was aware of. - dorothyh

The opening sentence....
The first sentence captured my attention because I could see that Sadie Blue had fight in her. She had dignity and resolve even though she knew he was going to punch her again. I wanted to learn more about the spirit of someone who had such strength. - madelonw

This book is written in first person, present tense. Did that choice by the author make the story more intimate? If so, in what ways?
I found that this author was able to create unique, compelling voices for 10 distinct characters, but she entwined the stories so beautifully and with such vivid imagery that I was captivated by each person's point of view. - madelonw

Was the title to this novel a metaphor? Explain with examples, please...
I think it means that 'if the creek don't rise,' life is tolerable. All the other challenges of life can be tolerated and even overcome as long as the ultimate disaster does not occur. These characters are living on the verge of disaster, and they ... - madelonw

What did the novel tell you about 1970s Appalachia that you expected? What surprised you?
I expected the poverty. lack of education, abuse and how difficult it is to escape unless a person had a mentor to assist in their getting a better life - dorothyh

What insights did Birdie's Books of Truths give you into life in Appalachia and the gifts Birdie possessed?
She was insightful to peoples' mental needs and was knowledgeable of "home" remedies to care for the body - dorothyh

What role did Tattler Swann play in the book? Was he a good spokesman for Jerome Biddle? If so, why?
Tatter Swann was a young boy who truly represented Appalachia. His teacher was nature. He was 'simple", but had what we would call "Street smarts". He knew how to survive on the mountain. He knew good from bad and recognized the good and the evil... - reene

When Kate Shaw arrived in Baines Creek, she expected to be doing the teaching. What were the things she learned instead?
I think Kate learned that there are different types of intelligence based on who one is & where one lives. While book smarts may be of much use in some areas...they're not much use in others. I think Kate's eyes were also opened to true real poverty ... - PiperUp

Which characters were most capable of loving? In what ways did they demonstrate that?
The five previous disscusions have completly answered the question of who in the book were the most loving and how each showed that they were. - Suzanne

Who were the most lovable or admirable characters? What made them that way? What were their strengths and weaknesses? In what ways were they important to Sadie's salvation?
I admired Sadie Blue's fighting spirit. She overcame her troubled home life. An unintended pregnancy forced her into an abusive relationship with Roy, who destroyed the precious few things she held dear (including her radio), ultimately murdering ... - madelonw

If the Creek Don't Rise is a bold debut about a dusty, desperate town finding the inner strength it needs to outrun its demons.

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A chorus of voices tells this contemporary story from the mountain town of Baines Creek, North Carolina. Sadie Blue, a young pregnant teen, opens the novel in the midst of a beating by her moonshiner husband, Roy Tupkin. From the opening lines, life looks grim for Sadie, and, as it turns out, for many of Baines Creek's inhabitants.

As we hear from various members of this rough and gritty town, we see Sadie's situation through different perspectives. Her grandmother, Gladys, is a hard and gruff woman, due to a rough marriage and life much like the one Sadie seems destined for. Sadie's aunt Marris has a brighter perspective, though she too has experienced losses of her own. The town preacher, Eli Perkins, has seen Sadie's predicament too many times to be shocked, but he has his hopes set on the new schoolteacher, Kate Shaw, making a difference. Facing a daunting challenge, Kate is surprised to discover she feels at home here, despite the uncertain reception she receives from a community not used to outsiders.

Kate serves as a catalyst in Sadie's life. First, she begins teaching her to read and then asks for Sadie's help in the humble classroom. In a later chapter, Kate is there to help the medicine woman Birdie Rocas care for the teen after a particularly injurious beating from Roy. That experience spurs Sadie into action. Bolstered by her dead father's spirit and the song lyrics of Loretta Lynn, she is determined to change her fate.

Sadie's troubled relationship with Roy serves as the plotline, but it's the varying characters, each with his or her own needs and desires, that bring this small town to life. Their care and concern for Sadie speaks to her appeal, and the warmth of this town despite the hardships faced on a daily basis.The youngest, and most charming narrator is Tattler Swan, the medicine woman's assistant and fellow ginseng hunter. In addition to Sadie's kind-hearted supporters, we also see the darker underbelly of this place when we hear from the preacher's bitter and small-minded sister, Prudence, as well as the evil Roy and his moonshiner partner, Billy.

For readers of Appalachian literature, the characters here will be familiar, perhaps even stereotypical. Although there is authenticity; in my mind, their representations are of limited scope. As someone who has lived in Appalachia, I would have liked to see some of these common stereotypes to surprise me in some small way instead of simply filling their expected roles in the community.

Athough the message seems to be that the outsider, teacher Kate, incited change within this town, that idea was dropped toward the end, when the novel narrates Roy and Billy's story. They are not influenced by the new teacher—or even by the changes occurring within their community. In these chapters, even though Sadie is hinted at in the background, her story is not woven in as fully as I would have liked, which is surprising especially seeing as Sadie is the focal point at the novel's beginning.

Appalachian life is foreign even to most Americans. In many ways, it's easy to think the people of these mountains don't have much in common with the rest of the country. I worry that the novel's conclusion might leave readers' prejudices and stereotypes intact, rather than creating an appreciation and respect for a different pace of life while seeing commonalities in our humanity. That being said, the novel's clear and evocative prose ultimately creates a portrait of a town both beautiful and harsh. If the Creek Don't Rise transports readers to a specific time and place, where they can spend time with a variety of characters.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

Publishers Weekly
[A] tender but powerful debut...highlighting Weiss's considerable characterization skills.

Kirkus Reviews
Weiss' tale is a beguiling, compelling read.

Booklist
Starred Review. The author's masterful use of language, including dialect unique to the area, builds another layer of connection between these characters while she develops a greater sense of inner isolation and distance from those outside the community

Library Journal
Starred Review. Writing with a deep knowledge of the enduring myths of Appalachia, Weiss vividly portrays real people and sorrows. A strong, formidable novel for readers of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.

Author Blurb Kathleen Grissom, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything
This one nearly broke my heart. With deeply human characters I will not easily forget, Weiss captures the fierce pull of desperation and the formidable power of hope.  An impressive debut from a talent to watch.

Author Blurb Erika Marks, author of The Last Treasure
Every page of Leah Weiss' debut, If the Creek Don't Rise, has a pulse as fierce and unyielding as its Appalachian setting. Told through an ensemble of narrators, men and women of all ages bound by the inescapable power of place and belonging, it is a lush exploration of the darkest rooms in the human heart, and the brightest fires of the human spirit. Weiss' remarkable gift for language left me breathless, and her characters, distinctive and unapologetically-human, will haunt me for some time.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Tired Bookreader
Not to be Missed
It's rare that a book grabs you from the first sentence; and yet, that is exactly what happened. The people, the environment, the fear, the hate, the anger, the struggles...all of this made for a book that a person could not wait to keep reading. And then the ending...did NOT see that coming. I love this book and encourage anyone who loves a good tale to pick this one up.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Janet S
Great Appalachian Novel
Wow! this novel grabbed me quickly. I liked how the author introduced/got me into the heads of several folks in the town of Baines Creek. Great technique! At times I laughed and then cried while reading the book.

Throughout the novel I was rooting for the sweet but determined Sadie Blue. Leah Weiss does a great job as a first time novelist. Encore!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by jill
Sometimes you make your own happy ending
Tucked in to the Appalachian Mountains, the people of Baines Creek live a hard luck, hard scrabble life. Tied together by tradition, misfortune, and a distrust of outsiders they make their way by whatever means necessary.
A product of that environment, without formal education, a family support system and self-esteem, Sadie Blue does what many girls in her situation are prone to. Sadie falls for the first smooth talking man that looks her way and jumps from a bad situation to a horrible one.
An outsider, with a story of her own to tell, befriends Sadie and gives her the strength to do what needs to be done. With help with some of the creek’s residents, some strange and some downright otherworldly Sadie begins to climb out of the situation she’s found herself in.
The area and its inhabitants and so well written and deeply explored that you can almost visualize them. I could not put this book down and its inhabitants have stayed with me in the days afterward.

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Moonshine Mania

In If the Creek Don't Rise, Sadie Blue's husband earns his money making and selling moonshine. The trouble caused by alcohol and illegal business is a theme that runs throughout the story. The term moonshine comes from the illicit nature in which it has historically been brewed, in the dark, under cover of "moon shine." Moonshine has made a recent reappearance in public culture. Here are ten things you may not know about the infamous libation.

  1. It won't make you go blind

    Moonshine could get you blind drunk, but it should be a temporary affliction. Poorly made moonshine is another story. It's not the strength of the alcohol that's the problem, it's the methanol, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. Methanol has a lower boiling point than alcohol (ethanol), and so is first to come from the still. Any respectable moonshiner knows the first batch - and anything produced before the boiling point of ethanol (174°F) - needs to be discarded. Methanol can be highly toxic, even in small quantities, and can lead to blindness and kidney failure. Know your source before you imbibe!

  2. Yeast makes a difference

    Without yeast, there would be no alcohol - legal or illegal. These single-celled organisms occur in the wild all over the world, on every continent including Antarctica. But there are tens of thousands of different strains. Some yeast yield higher amounts of alcohol and others are simply tastier. There's a reason Kentucky bourbon has a flavor all its own, and yeast is a big part of it.

  3. It comes in different styles and flavors

    The term moonshine covers a wide variety of alcohols including whiskey and rum. Alcohol is produced when yeasts ferment any kind of sugar. Moonshine is usually a grain alcohol—corn being a traditional favorite. Bottling liquor was an easier, and sometimes more lucrative, way for farmers to monetize their harvest. Any kind of fruit or even starchy vegetables, such as potatoes can be fermented.

  4. Distillation is the point of no-return

    The process for making beer and wine begins the same way as hard liquor: natural fermentation. In order to create alcohol spirits the fermented liquid must be distilled. Distillation is the process of purifying a liquid by successive evaporation and condensation.

  5. Copper stills and apparatus for making moonshine Copper stills are more than a pretty face

    Copper stills, which are used to make moonshine, are pretty to look at. But there's a scientific reason that the metal is the choice material for distilleries. During the distillation process, sulfur is produced, which chemically bonds with the copper, producing copper sulfate. As long as the distiller cleans the still, the liquor shouldn't have a nasty sulfur smell.

  6. Moonshine is made practically everywhere

    It might go by another name, or come in a different flavor, but people have been making their own spirits all over the United States—and the rest of the world—since at least 1000 B.C. Even George Washington had a distillery at his estate in Mount Vernon. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, which started in Pennsylvania, was in response to the first attempts to tax homemade alcohol. Protests occurred all over the new country, especially in the Midwest frontier areas. And during prohibition, moonshine entrepreneurs were busy everywhere in the USA.

  7. NASCAR got its start thanks to moonshine

    Bootleggers hired to transport moonshine in the early 1900s modified their vehicles to make them faster and easier to maneuver. Before long these fast-driving, risk-loving drivers were racing each other along the back roads. NASCAR was a way to make the races count. Junior Johnson, one of the first NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductees was once arrested for his connection with the family business. President Reagan pardoned him in 1986.

  8. Moonshine over the years

    People have been using and abusing alcohol for most of history. Even the ancient Egyptians took advantage of natural fermentation results. But liquor didn't become moonshine until the government tried to tax it. Prohibition made it illegal—and therefore a lucrative—business. During the Great Depression, it was one way to make a living—bad economic times have always been good for the moonshine business. The sugar rations of World War II ensured that grain spirits stayed in fashion rather than simple sugar-based alcohol.

  9. (In)famous Women Moonshiners

    Whether they were helping their male relatives or handling various steps of the business themselves, women have gotten mixed up in moonshine too. From the legendary "Nancy the Moonshiner" who evaded capture in her own home, to brilliant businesswoman Mary Dowling who set up a distillery in the border town of Juarez Mexico, to Ella Costner, the Poet Laureate of the Smokies in 1970, hard-working women have worked the moonshine business to keep their families fed.

  10. Moonshine as Medicine?

    Some folks swear by the medicinal qualities of moonshine. Mix it with lemon, honey and a touch of ginger to make a potent cough syrup. For treating arthritis, let moonshine steep over yams or poke roots. One old-time remedy suggested curing colic with a mixture of moonshine and tobacco smoke. It's also been used as an antiseptic and anesthesia. Not to mention a good old-fashioned love tonic. No matter what your reason, drink with caution!


Picture of moonshine-making apparatus from Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum

By Sarah Tomp

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