Title: If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
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. 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.
If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss is a gritty yet incredibly poignant character study of Appalachian life. With most of chapters written from different characters’ points of view, this debut novel offers an in-depth peek into the various people living in the fictional town of Baines Creek, NC.
The starting point of the story is pregnant Sadie Blue and her brand-new marriage to Roy Tupkin. Taken in by the charm that belies his true nature, Sadie discovers the violent truth about her husband right away as he takes his frustrations out on her with shocking brutality. Her Granny Gladys Hicks offers no help other than a temporary place to stay but Sadie does find warmth and compassion with her Granny’s neighbor and friend Marris Jones. Hope for her future arrives with outsider Kate Shaw, the town’s new teacher and Sadie eagerly accepts the newcomer’s offer to teach her to read.
The fictional town of Baines Creek serves as a character in the story as well as the novel’s setting. These small, rural towns tend to be extremely insular where everyone knows each other’s business and gossip abounds. Despite this knowledge about both the good and bad things that are occuring in their neighbor’s lives, the prevailing attitude tends to be more of a live and let live as friends and family turn a blind eye to abuse and criminal activity. The perfect example of this is Sadie’s situation with Roy. There is not a single person in Baines Creek who is unaware he is beating her but, with very few exceptions, no one steps in to help her. Yet if an outsider tries to intervene, the townspeople immediately close ranks in order to protect the person under threat. They are also quick to rally around one another when disaster strikes.
There is also an underlying sense of inevitability and hopelessness within families. This is certainly the case with Sadie’s Granny Gladys. She has firsthand experience with her granddaughter’s situation, yet she never extends her a helping hand. When Gladys is confronted with Sadie’s bruises and beaten down countenance, there is a pervasive sense of “you’ve made your bed and now you must lie in it”. Gladys remains passive and without empathy for Sadie’s plight as she fails to even bring up Roy’s abusive treatment of her pregnant granddaughter.
For much of the novel, readers have no idea when the story is taking place. This omission feels deliberate since an exact time period is somewhat irrelevant due to the fact time tends to stand still in rural or isolated areas such as Baines Creek. A few clues are dropped as the story unfolds that are helpful in narrowing down an approximate year but this sense of timelessness remains even after the specific time frame is eventually revealed.
If the Creek Don’t Rise is a heartbreaking yet occasionally uplifting debut from Leah Weiss . This deeply affecting novel is a compelling and sometimes stark portrayal of Appalachian life. The story comes a somewhat abrupt but immensely satisfying conclusion and readers will revel in the healthy dose of poetic justice that is served to those who so richly deserve it.