The Jump-Off Creek introduces the reader to the unforgiving Blue Mountains and the harsh pioneer lifestyle with the tale of Lydia Sanderson, a widow who moves west from Pennsylvania to take up residence in a rundown homestead. She and other characters battle nature, finances, and even each other on occasion in a fight for survival in the harsh Oregon wilderness.
Although the story is vividly expressed through the use of precise detail and 1800s slang, it failed to give me a reason to care because the characters are depicted as emotionally inhibited.Gloss attempts to draw the reader into the story with Lydia’s diary entry, giving a taste of the slang used in the 1800s, boosting the reader’s curiosity, and showing a little of Lydia’s personality and schooling through the character’s writing: “6 April Bought the black hinny Mule today, $18, also the spavint gray as my money is so short and I have hope he will put on wt, his eyes are clear w a smart look in them and his feet not tender. Believe I am now outfitted, shall start out at Day Break.” (1)She then moves on to describe each of the characters, and in doing so, their surroundings and how they fit in: “He was cold and wet, and the best part of the day had been used up anyway.
He wiped his hands on the grass and let the pinto horse take him toward home. There was little enough comfort there. The house crouched dumb and blind on the high bench in the rain. Jack’s horse stood droop-necked and dismal inside the strand of rope fence, but there wasn’t any smoke coming from the damned stove (28).
”As evident in the example above, Gloss is a master of description, but she is lacking in the description of her characters’ emotions, as seen here: “It had been a while since Lydia had cried over anything. She was surprised when a few dry tears squeezed around the edges of her eyes. But it was the lost babies, she thought, and could not be loneliness, that made her feel this quick, keen need of Evelyn Walker’s friendship (82).” It appears that Gloss attempted to show a little of Lydia’s emotions, but though her point was expressed clearly, it was said far too dispassionately for the reader to care that Lydia was crying over the lost babies and loneliness.
After a little while, in the mud next to the trail, the bear’s tracks swung west, and following them she came down to the North Fork of the Meacham by a rough, straight way. The trail beside the creek was beaten flat and wide in hardened old mud; the only marks showing on it had set there after the last heavy rain. She looked for a little while without expectation, then gave it up.She had thought of going over to Tim Whiteaker’s.
I have had a bear after my goats. I wondered if you had had him around here at all. When she could not get it to sound unafraid, she rode the mule back along the Jump-Off Creek and home and afterward, for two or three days, slept poorly with the loaded shotgun on the little rug below her bed. (68)This excerpt is a wonderful example of both Gloss’s descriptive detail and the lack of emotion in a situation where it should certainly be present.
Here, Lydia is tracking a bear that came after her goats; any sane person would be feeling a bit more heart pounding fear, or something of the like, but, as typical of Gloss, this emotion is nearly omitted from her writing.Gloss painted a clear, believable picture of an independent pioneer woman’s struggle to survive, but in her painstaking detail, she neglected a vital element of storytelling – character emotion.