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This Rock

A Novel
By Robert Morgan

Reading Group Guide

    A SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION
    READING GROUP GUIDE
    THIS ROCK
    From the author of the bestselling Gap Creek comes the story of two boys coming-of-age in the isolated, fundamentalist world of 1920s Appalachia. Moody is the wild one, forever in trouble, given to spending time with prostitutes and bootleggers. Muir has big dreams of leaving home and becoming a preacher or builder, but is shy and unsure of what steps to take. Their widowed mother, Ginny, struggles to move beyond her losses and keep the family together.
    After several failed attempts to find his calling, Muir resolves to build a stone church with his own hands on the family land. The consequences of his plan are more grave and far-reaching than anyone could have anticipated. In colorful and detailed prose that alternates between the point of view of Muir and Ginny, Robert Morgan brings a remote time and place to life and tells a moving story.
    Discussion Points
    1. Constantly clashing with one another, Muir and Moody often seem as different as two brothers could be, both in temperament and action. Are there similarities between them as well that emerge over the course of the novel? At what moments do the two come together? Why?
    2. As Muir and Moody begin to forge their own paths at a young age, Ginny appears to be a helpless bystander. And yet, as she herself comes to see, "A mama has more influence than she realizes sometimes" (page 258). What effect does Ginny have on her sons' lives and how does she make her influence felt?
    3. In opposing Muir's plans to build a new church, Preacher Liner accuses him of seeking personal glory. "Pride goeth before a fall," the older man warns, quoting from Scripture. Does Muir's sense of pride hamper him in his various endeavors? If so, how? Does it ever help him?
    4. Why do you suppose there are no chapters told from Moody's point of view? How do we gain a feel for Moody's personality and motivations? When does his character take shape?
    5. What effect does the author's use of rural, Southern vernacular have on our experience of the narrative?
    6. Manual labor is at the heart of life for the Powell family and for the surrounding community. What is the function of Morgan's highly detailed descriptions of the work that is done on the land, particularly by Muir?
    7. If work is one central element of existence in Morgan's depiction of 1920s North Carolina, religion is surely another. What sort of connection is implied between labor and faith? How do the two become linked in Muir's mind?
    8. Shootings, knifings, beatings, logging accidents, typhoid: random violence and untimely death seem to be immutable facts of life in This Rock. What role does violence -- intentional and otherwise -- play in the story? Are the victims of savagery generally responsible for their fate, or are they merely unlucky?
    9. Of all the incidents of violence that Muir witnesses, the episode involving the elephant at the parade -- coupled with the elephant's eventual destruction -- may be the most powerful and disturbing. How does Muir react to this gruesome event? Why do you think this becomes a defining moment for him?
    10. Forgiveness occupies an important place in the Powells' Baptist faith. As Ginny repeatedly reminds her sons, when a wrong has been done, the Christian thing to do is "forgive seven times seventy" (page 236). Both Moody and Muir are strong willed and have a tendency toward anger. When do they overcome their stubbornness and practice the forgiveness they have been taught? What is the result?
    11. Muir could be described as driven and somewhat of a visionary. Do you think he has a sense of being chosen? And, if so, for what? Even on his small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains Muir dreams big dreams. Do you think Ginny encourages him to pursue these dreams? Why do you think Muir's frustration builds? In what ways could This Rock be seen as a kind of an apprenticeship novel?
    12. In the Charlotte Observer, Fred Chappell writes: "This is a book about the human soul at war with itself, although it turns out [the author has] imagined the soul as two different people -- two brothers. One has very strong religious convictions and visions and a dream of an ideal life. The other is more or less trashy and violent like the rest of us, self-destructive and not real smart." Do you agree with his statement? How is this struggle resolved?

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