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The Jump-Off Creek Paperback – August 3, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (August 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618565876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618565870
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The highlights of my writing life: In 1996 I received a Whiting Writers Award, which is sort of a MacArthur grant in a minor key. People told me the Whiting was a prestigious award but hardly anyone knows what the heck it is, so I wonder how it came to be prestigious?! Probably from the substantial chunk of change they drop on your head without warning. ("Substantial" of course being a relative term. It's not MacArthur substantial. But we paid off our house...) The Jump-Off Creek, about a woman homesteading in the Blue Mountains of Oregon in 1895, was winner of an Oregon Book Award and a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The Dazzle of Day, my only science fiction novel, received the PEN West Fiction Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fairly unusual for a science fiction novel to win a major PEN prize, but the Notable Book thing, not so much--it was Notable only within the ghetto of science fiction. Wild Life, set in the woods and mountains of Washington State at the turn of the 20th century, won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for literary fantasy, although at the time I wrote it I didn't think I was writing anything fantastical. The Hearts of Horses, about a young woman breaking horses for some farmers and ranchers in Eastern Oregon in 1917, has (so far!) been the most popular of any of my works. Is it that attention-grabbing cover? or "horses" in the title?! Guess we'll test the second theory, as I've decided to call the new novel (launching Oct. 28, 2014) Falling From Horses. Set in 1938, it's the story of a young man working as a stunt rider in Hollywood, making cowboy movies. And if you've already read The Hearts of Horses you will know the significance of this factoid: He's Henry and Martha's son.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By RuthAlice on March 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Book Nut on January 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
Finally, a Western that does not sugar-coat frontier life or turn it into a non-stop/action-packed gun fight! This novel is a refreshing, well researched, trip back to the frontier days of the Pacific Northwest. Gloss presents us with characters that feel very real and very ordinary, but somehow adds a rare grace to their lives. The flow of her writing is delightful (as always) and I found myself very disappointed to reach the end of this novel--I didn't want to stop reading!

I should add, though, that this is not a novel for those who require books to be jam-packed with action--you will not find much adrenalin in this story! On the other hand, if you are looking for a really good historical fiction read, this is a great book for a rainy afternoon.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on June 8, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I probably shouldn't be reading Molly Gloss. I'm a guy, after all. But maybe, at 64, some of the nastiness of being a guy has finally worn off. Because I love the way this woman writes. The Hearts of Horses hooked me, Wild Life wowed me, and now, this earlier absolute gem of a novel just blew me away. How does she do this thing where the essence of the story lies in what is not said? Lydia Sanderson, Tim Whiteaker, Blue Odell. None of them say very much of any real significance. All are stoic and uncomplaining of the "narrow circumstances" life has dealt them. In fact they are nearly inarticulate; yet all these feelings - of yearning and loneliness, of sorrow and regret, they are all somehow laid bare in the pauses. The descriptions, the gestures, the sidelong glances, the facial expressions - all become muted dialogue. Even the one character who seems unabashedly bad, the angry bigoted boy that is Harley Osgood, has an element of humanity in him that doesn't quite let you hate him. There are no simple black-and-white characters in Gloss's fiction. There are, instead, infinite shades of gray, and an attention to descriptive detail that makes you understand implicitly much of what is left unsaid. The years-long friendship between the two cowboys Whiteaker and Odell is perhaps one of the best portrayals of love between men that fiction has to offer. And I'm not talking about any "Brokeback Mountain" kinda stuff here either. These are just two men who have stuck together through thick and thin, mostly the latter, and a bond has formed that is stronger than most marriages. Enough said. This is simply a superb story. There oughta be a ten-star rating for books of this caliber. And by the way, what a wonderful film for thinking adults this could be. Thanks again, Molly. I'll be watching for the next book, so please, Write on! - Tim Bazzett, author of ReedCityBoy
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
The Jump Off Creek: A Book Review The nineteen nineties feminist movement has been slowly permeating every domain of society. Female empowerment has become an increasingly common protagonist theme among all genres of literature as well. The American western novel has become subjugated to a new hero. In Molly Gloss's novel The Jump Off Creek the feminist literature movement finds a graceful home.

Jump Off Creek tells the story of Lydia Sanderson, a widow taking up a claim in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. The text begins with a spring journal entry. This is the beginning of Ms. Sanderson's endeavor. The journal entries are continued throughout the story, not only to keep the reader aware of the time line of the story, but also to provide a unique first person account of Lydia's life story. Lydia says of herself, "I am used to being Alone, in spirit if not in body, and shall not be Lonely, as I never have been inclined that way. I believe what I feel is just a keenness to get to that place and stand under my own roof at last." Lydia's strong and independent character is a careful mix of gracefulness and ruggedness. Her resourcefulness and amazing endurance makes the Ingalls family look passé.

Yet the feminist tones of this book manage to make concessions and include some strong male characters to compliment Lydia. On her way to the homestead Lydia meets Tim Whiteaker. Tim is a John Wayne figure minus the capacity for conversation. Early in the text the model for Tim's behavior is clearly etched. One passage describes him as such: " He stood at the edge of the creek, not looking toward (Lydia), while he pushed his hair back up under his hat with the heel of one dirty hand.
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