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The Jump-Off Creek [Large Print] [Hardcover]

Molly Gloss
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1990 Thorndike Press Large Print Americana Series
Pen ; Faulkner Award Finalist and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award

William Kittredge called The Jump-Off Creek "a truly beautiful piece of American storytelling." The struggles of a widowed homesteader braving the austere and unsparing Blue Mountains contain "enough valor to make an ordinary life seem heroic" (Los Angeles Times). Told with Molly Gloss's unsentimental reserve, this novel is an inspiring reminder of a rich and uniquely American past.

(A Mariner Reissue)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Set in the high mountain country of Oregon during the 1890s, this first novel is a quiet, unsparing portrait of pioneer life, recounted simply and without romanticism. Drawing on pioneer diaries, journals and hand-me-down stories of her own ancestors, Gloss displays a deep awareness not only of the brutal hardships of frontier life, but also of the moral codes and emotional attachments of the people who settled there. Drawn by the freedom the West offers, Lydia Sanderson leaves a disappointing marriage in Pennsylvania and comes to Jump-Off Creek to homestead a place of her own. Tim Whiteaker, "gone cowboying" since the age of 13, and his partner, the half-Indian Blue Odell, raise cattle nearby. Three wolfers, squatting on abandoned property near Jump-Off Creek and walking the thin edge of the law in order to earn a marginal living, provide much of the tension within the novel. The author's intimate understanding of the harsh physical conditions and of the rituals and practices of frontier life (there are long descriptions of how to brand cattle and how to mend a roof) sometimes overshadows a deeper delineation of character. However, most of the scenes are handled with a restraint that communicates the characters' endemic loneliness, and the dialogue, though spare, is rich enough to convey their emotional conflicts.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Not a standard "Western," but a novel of the West notable for its accurate portrayal of life on a homestead and for the quality of writing that will make readers linger. At the height of the Depression of 1895 Lydia Sanderson, freed by the death of her husband, travels to Oregon where she homesteads on a mountain, living in a wretched hovel on land not fit to grow even a vegetable garden. Her companions are two mules, two goats, and hard work. Lydia's neighbors are few and far but bound together by a common struggle to survive. Their life is one of terse converse, kindness, and quick response to one another's needs. A rare treat of a first novel.
- Sister Avila, Acad. of Holy Angels, Minneapolis
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Not the Romantic West March 24 2002
A woman homesteads by herself in eastern Oregon. There are the standard dangers, problems, terrors and tragedies. This is saved from being trite by the stoic and undaunted character of the woman. Gloss also avoids the usual romantic happily-ever-after with the man next door.
Gloss has used journals and diaries of women in the West in hopes to draw out some of the nontraditional women's roles in the West, "I hope their strong, honest voices can be heard in this book." Showing that gender roles weren't fixed as many choose to believe, we see Lydia doing hard, manual labor, and Tim cooking and doing the wash. Lydia, the heroine of the book, abandons typical women's roles in the very beginning when she picks up and moves West alone to start a new life. "I'd rather have my own house, sorry as it is, than the wedding ring of a man who couldn't be roused from sleeping when his own child was slipping out of me unborn."
Gloss attempts to break down the Western stereotypes for men. Tim and Blue are like real men we could meet if we were on the frontier, not larger than life heroes that commonly dominate Western myths. Unlike heroes admired for their independence, Tim and Blue are dependant on others and each other on the frontier . They become almost like children in their dependence on others, "He turned and looked at her, ducking his chin." Things don't come easily for them and they struggle like any human being would have, "Tim put the gun down in the mud and went, shaking, across the bloody wallow on his knees." Even being a cowboy is rejected in this book, "He said he'd seen years when a good cowboy couldn't by himself a job, but a good cook could pretty much always find work.
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Mrs. Lydia Sanderson had married and her husband had moved into her room at her father's house so that she could continue to run her father's farm and help nurse her sick father. After both her father and her husband die, she sells all her husband's possessions and buys a relinquishment claim in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, leaving her binding life behind: "The truth is. . . I'd rather have my own house, sorry as it is, than the wedding ring of a dead man who couldn't be roused from sleeping when his own child was slipping out of me unborn" (81).
This novel is the story of about the first year and a half of her homestead. She is an incredibly laconic person and the converstations seem to drag on because more is understood or thought than is spoken. She is an incredibly positive woman who faces homesteadings challenges without self-doubt or equivocating whether it is evicting the squatters from her home, chasing a bear that is stalking her goats, or spitting cedar shakes for a new roof. However, she always tries to be proper. A neighbor rides up when she is nailing poles into the chinks of her log cabin, and she comments, "I smiled an presented myself as ladylike as liable to be with a hammer in my hand and nails in my teeth!" (102). Lydia Sanderson's character is awe-inspiringly solid and by the end, she is willing to teach the male hero how to put up hay.
Unfortunately, the more traditional male physical conflict story of two ranchers, Blue Odell and Tim Whiteaker take over the narrative. Wolfers begin to shoot cattle to provide meat for their poisoned bait, and they set leg-hold traps that wound a bear so that it begins to prey on domesticated animals.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible and artistically portrayed March 7 2001
An incredibly poignant novel that reads and feels as sharp and clear as a freezing cold running stream.
The author writes crisply, economically and precisely to reflect the times and circumstances of the lifestyle of Lydia Sanderson. Lydia is widowed and decides to purchase what remains of a forsaken homestead in the Blue Mountains. The challenges that she must face up to are great, being a woman, even greater, still. The work she must do is brutal, the weather a force to break men's souls, the physical labor more demanding than anything she knows. Yet she accepts this completely.
In brilliant detail the author portrays how this woman lived alone and prospered. It is a fascinating accounting of her lifestyle; the items she has in her possession, what she eats and how she transports herself and her animals. All of this is told conservatively as her journal recounts the challenges that unfold before her.
In contrast to her personal life, the reader is introduced to the folk that live nearest to her. These are strong and beautiful characters, tough and tender, strong and bending. In very difficult times, they came together and helped each other. Their spirit is reflected through the accounting of Lydia's story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A realistic pioneer story Aug. 30 2000
This book has some of the most real and fascinating characters and interpersonal interactions I've read in any book. Author is similarly skilled in describing the natural world. An amusing contrast came to mind: the squeeky-clean pioneer life depicted in the "Little house on the prairie" books and the muddy, bloody, painful and filthy reality of Gloss's account of pioneering. Putting these things together you have a novel that is remarkably lifelike, believable, raw and experiential for the reader.
I took this as a great and realistic story about pioneers in the mountains of Oregon at the turn of the 20th century. The depictions of the genders are interesting, believable. Both men and women are complex and have clear strengths and weaknesses in the book, and neither gender is held as superior. In the end the men and women seem more alike than not. But I'll note that I didn't see this book as being "about" gender. I find I'm commenting on the depiction of gender in this novel only because it is remarkably true to reality, which lies in contrast with much fiction, I believe.
I highly recommend this book and Gloss's "Wild Life", and if you want more reading about women in the west during this era, I urge you to read Diane Smith's Letters from Yellowstone.
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