By David Madden
What happens in the Snowbird Mountains is that the man who first explored Mount Mitchell is found dead, a boy searches for the wonderful city, and a man ventures deep inside a mountain, among many other memorable experiences.
Morgan has crafted opening lines that lure the reader into the immediacy of the experience, into “The Body on Mt. Mitchell,” with “When the body of Prof. Elisha Mitchell was found in a pool below a waterfall in 1857, the cold water had preserved the body remarkably well,” into “The Wonderful City” with “The most frightening thing about an epidemic was its invisibility,” into “Devil’s Courthouse” with “In theory gold can be found almost anywhere,” and into the title story “In the Snowbird Mountains” with “In the Snowbird Mountains the only things to fear were boars and feeding bears.”
The experience that the most intellectually resilient readers are most likely to remember with admiration and delight is “Judaculla Rock,” an achievement that reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s last and finest novel, Stella Maris. Divided into two parts, the juxtaposition of which sparks, like rubbing two sticks together to produce the start of a fire, the 17-page tale, told in first person, takes us deep into the mind of Dr. Jim Evans, a scientist, who sets out at the age of 67 to find and examine the ancient inscriptions on Judaculla Rock. In the first part, he is sorting through his vast and complex knowledge of the rock and other such phenomena, when he is violently interrupted; in the second part, he wanders lost through the forest in the Snowbird Mountains.
Robert Morgan’s own impressive intellect and artistic achievements may be experienced in his 11 novels, including Gap Creek, 16 volumes of poetry, and three works of nonfiction, including a biography of Daniel Boone and Lions of the West, Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion. Coming out in the fall is Fallen Angel: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. He is Professor of English Emeritus at Cornell University.
“Short stories are like snakes—they strike quick and draw blood.”
People tell Robert Morgan that he once said that, but he doesn’t remember. Even so, it’s a memorable way of describing the effect of his many short stories.
David Madden is the author of many novels and collections of short stories. His latest work is Momma’s Lost Piano, an innovative memoir, and he is finishing It All Came Together in Paris, a novel.