Back Creek is the story of the summer following Grace Barnett’s graduation from high school. The year is 1975, and local families are grieving the loss of their sons to the Vietnam War. Grace’s own family is undergoing a struggle of its own – with a father who disappears into his study and drink every evening, and a mother who is constantly leaving for days at a time. Grace copes by visiting her friend Cal, a 25-year-old Vietnam vet who was discharged for medical reasons but has no visible injury, and by re-reading her favorite gothic novels, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.
The last Sunday of May, Grace witnesses a horrific boating accident on the creek, and the accident seems to start a sequence of events that has Grace’s life careening out of control. She should be packing and planning for her freshman year of college in September. Instead, she’s taking care of her father and her prodigal older sister in the wake of her mother’s disappearance for what seems to be the last time.
I love books in which the setting seems to be a character of its own, and Back Creek is one of those books. The novel is infused with this creek in Virginia and its people and their stories. Grace is a wonderfully drawn character, a young woman faced with immense responsibilities and choices she should never have to deal with. The author addresses the issue of choice and responsibility: when do we take care of ourselves and when do we face up to our responsibilities and make sacrifices for the people who depend on us?
Back Creek is a thoughtful, atmospheric novel, and a great reading experience. The only negative was that I felt the ending was a bit abrupt. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Goetsch’s work, and would be very pleased if she ever told more of Grace Barnett’s story.