This book review was published in The Appalachian
None of the stories in Robert Morgan’s collection, The Blue Valleys, are about anyone special. They’re not about uncommon events, either.
The first story in the collection is about a dying Civil War soldier displaced from his home in the North Carolina mountains and imprisoned in a union camp. Readers learn that before his capture, the soldier deserted because he couldn’t bear the thought of his wife and child trying to survive on the farm alone.
Again, it’s not a unique story – how many of those men were there? But Morgan’s story doesn’t for a second become cliché.
That story, called “A Brightness New and Welcoming,” exists almost entirely inside the captured soldier’s head. Morgan captures perfectly the way your mind slips in and out when you’re very sick and confused by time and space. It keeps the story interesting because it allows for multiple changes of locale.
All 13 stories in the collection focus on the southern Appalachians and they all take place inside the mind, no matter what external action is going on. They focus on narrators of all ages, classes, and professions. It allows the reader to experience the stories fully and it’s a good reminder that most humans are more alike than we’ll admit.
Morgan is one of those rare authors who can deal with heavy, universal themes without ever telling the reader he’s doing it. The result is often a realization at the very end of the story that you’ve been taught something when you thought you were only having fun.
The stories, though, are light, lovely and highly readable. Anyone could read this book for pleasure, but poetry-lovers would appreciate it the most.
That’s because Morgan is a poet and, in a way, these stories are like long-form poetry. Even more than the human spirit, even more than the blue valleys of Appalachia, what’s being celebrated here is the singular beauty of words.
The Blue Valleys is available at the W.L. Eury Appalachian Collection on the fourth floor of Belk Library.
“Something was wrong, and he was tired and cold. And things had been wrong a long time, since he woke up and the firing was going on. Since he got sick and could no longer catch rats and seabirds for meat. Since he turned himself in after the fodder was pulled. Since he joined the Confederate army. It traced all the way back. Something had always been wrong. Something was wrong at the beginning of creation he guessed. It was in the nature of things that they were wrong. On the night before he left for the army he listened to the oaks muttering outside the window and the hush of the distant waterfall, and knew things were wrong.”