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Nickel Mountain: A Pastoral Novel Miękka oprawa – 1 października 2007
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At the heart of John Gardner's Nickel Mountain is an uncommon love story: when at 42, the obese, anxious, and gentle Henry Soames marries seventeen-year-old Callie Wells--who is pregnant with the child of a local boy--it is much more than years which define the gulf between them. But the beauty of this novel is the gradual revelation of the bond that develops as this unlikely couple experiences courtship and marriage, the birth of a son, isolation, forgiveness, work, and death in a small Catskill community in the 1950s. The plot turns on tragic events-they might be accidents or they might be acts of will-involving a cast of rural eccentrics that includes a lonely amputee veteran, a religious hysteric (thought by some to be the devil himself) and an itinerant "Goat Lady." Questions of guilt, innocence, and even murder are eclipsed by deeds of compassion, humility, and redemption, and ultimately by Henry Soames' quiet discovery of grace. Novelist William H. Gass, a friend and colleague of the author, has written an introduction that shines new light on the work and career of the much praised but often misunderstood John Gardner.
"Nickel Mountain is shapely and moving enough to make you believe, while you are reading it, in ancient forms and permanent truths." --New York Times Book Review
"No one tracks the emotional landscape of characters better than John Gardner. In language both supple and precise Nickel Mountain explores the price and the prize of being human." --Toni Morrison
William H. Gass--essayist, novelist, literary critic--was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He has been the recipient of the first PEN/Nabokov Award, the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamondstein Award for the Art of the Essay, three National Book Critic Circle Awards for Criticism, a Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the Award for Fiction and the Medal of Merit for Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. He lives in St. Louis.
- Wydawca : NEW DIRECTIONS; Edycja Reprint (1 października 2007)
- Język : Angielski
- Miękka oprawa : 312 str.
- ISBN-10 : 0811216780
- ISBN-13 : 978-0811216784
- Wymiary : 13.46 x 2.29 x 20.32 cm
- Recenzje klientów:
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Gardner was also a master at creating a constant flowing "dream" of images in the reader's mind, and his dancing sentences paint marvelous pictures throughout the book. Even without a highly intriguing plot I felt myself motivated to turn the pages because I was busy visualizing the scenes and I was curious to see what would become of the characters Gardner invented.
This is one of his earliest works and can't be properly compared to his later ones, but as a case study on characterization and character before plot, this is a book you should read.
His heart was bad, business at the Stop-Off had never been worse, and he was close
to a nervous breakdown." So begins John Gardner's Nickel Mountain: A Pastoral Novel
Henry Soames, the main character of the novel, is proprietor of the Stop-Off diner
in the Catskills in New York State. A morbidly obese, "elephant" of a man, Soames,
42, has already had one heart attack, and he's forever munching on gingersnaps, Oreo
cookies, and cheese crackers—while popping little white heart pills. Ole Doc Cathey
warns him, "Henry, do you want to kill yourself? If you don't cut back on your
out-of-control eating habits, you'll die!"
When Calliope "Callie" Wells, 17, turns up pregnant by her boyfriend, Willard Freund
(who hastily leaves town), no one will take her in except Soames, who hires her as a
waitress in his diner, and later, although 25 years her senior, marries her. Soon, a
child, whom they name Jimmy, is born. Although basically a good man—laid-back,
gentle, and easy-going—Henry angrily says of Willard Freund, "I'm going to kill
Gardner peppers his novel with interesting characters: "Bible crazy" Simon Bale, who
claims to have seen the devil; skeptical, agnostic George Loomis, who had his right
arm torn off in his corn binder; an itinerant "gypsy," called the Goat Lady, who
mysteriously comes up missing; and Old Man Fred Judkins, who, when Callie tells him,
"You have to have faith," replies, "No. You have to have the nerve to ride it down."
With impeccable poetic prose, Gardner describes the topography and changing
seasons—the heavy winter snows and the debilitating summer drought—of the Catskills,
and the beautiful scenery between Nickel Mountain and Crow Mountain.
Pervasive in this work is a brooding undercurrent of memento mori—our mortality and
inevitable demise. Henry tells four-year-old Jimmy, "Everything living will die." At
another time, he muses, "Maybe you'll find something you thought a lot of, but it
didn't matter, all you could ever count on for sure was someday your heart would
In his famous work of literary criticism, On Moral Fiction (1979), “Gardner's
central thesis [is] that fiction should be moral. Gardner meant 'moral' not in the
sense of narrow religious or cultural 'morality,' but rather that fiction should
aspire to discover those human values that are universally sustaining." (Quotation
So what universally sustaining human values do we find in Nickel Mountain? It's a
story of our human struggle against doubts, fears, guilt, and follies, and our
search for love, friendship, dignity, and respect. In short, it's a cautionary tale
urging us to rise above the "human-all-too-human," to come to terms with our
mortality, and, against all odds, to use the time remaining to us to find a measure
of redemption and grace. Beautifully written, and containing much philosophical and
theological food for thought, Nickel Mountain is well worth your time.
ABOUT JOHN GARDNER:
Born in Batavia, New York, in 1933, John Champlin Gardner, Jr., was a novelist,
essayist, literary critic, and university professor. He was killed on September 14,
1982 in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, when he lost control of his
Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He is probably best known for his novel Grendel (1971),
a best-selling retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster's point of view. Among
his other best-selling and widely respected works are The Wreckage of Agathon
(1970); The Sunlight Dialogues (1972); October Light (1975); Mickelsson's Ghosts
(1982); and The Art of Fiction (1983).
The story begins with Henry Soames, early forties, an obese man with a heart as big as he is. Henry's doctor, old Doctor Cathey, is constantly chiding Henry about his over eating and telling him to lose weight. He has a bad heart. Henry is the owner of a country diner and has a room in back where he sleeps. Into his life comes young Callie Wells, seventeen, who wants a job. Her parents were classmates of Henry's, in fact, her mother gave him his first broken heart. He was a big, obese kid at that time. So he hires Callie. Not long after he marries her. Her teen age love got her pregnant and ran off to college. Big hearted Henry marrying a girl twenty five years younger to save her embarrassment and shame.
Mr. Gardner's descriptions are very detailed, bringing readers into the actions and thoughts of characters. The Catskills are beautiful, but winters are long and cold, summers hot and dry. The diner is a place where neighbors, especially men, like to come, eat, talk, hang out. Callie is a hard worker who makes the diner more inviting, a woman's touch? Then the baby, Jimmie, is born, making Henry a dad; a good dad is he. A strange marriage, but there are stranger ones.
Readers meet many quirky charaters, There is old Dr. Cathey who nags Henry about his weight and bad heart, George Loomis, Henry's best friend, he is 30, living in a big old house and is on his way to becoming a hoarder. He never married, being in love with a Korean girl during the war. He has an ankle in a cast, is missing an arm due to a farm accident. There is a poor, crazy man who Henry takes in, whose wife died when their house burned. He pays for the funeral and is afraid of what his wife will say when she sees the bill. This crazy man terrifies Jimmy about the devil which makes Henry furious. The strangest character is the Goat Lady who drives a purple and pink wagon pulled by goats, right out of a circus. This woman disappears though her wagon is found among George's possessions.
The book is wonderful, a good, enjoyable read about real people. In fact, there are people much like these characters everywhere. Real people. I enjoyed my vacation in the Catskills. I feel Henry and Callie complemented eath other, both made each other better characters.
I considered giving the book only a four star rating, as I felt like the plot was not what it could have been. However, Gardner did an excellent job at giving detailed descriptions, evoking the dream image in the mind of the reader.
I enjoyed being transported to a small community in the Catskills, where life was more personal, and decisions more powerful than they appear to me in this modern world of dissipation and aridity.
For those who have not read the book, you may not want to read after this point as I'll comment on the book's contents.
In a way the book seems overworked, as I think I may have missed some of the theme and symbolism it contains. As far as I can see, the "moral" message may have been contained in the character of Henry Soames contrasted with Willard Freund and to a lesser extent, George Loomis.
In my opinion, Loomis is in the middle-ground between Freund and Soames. The fact of the goat-lady's cart in his barn presented a problem for me, as I did not know what to think. I don't feel that my not knowing what happened lends itself to any purpose, or generates any emotional reaction in the reader (to me it seems like the reader is cheated).
The moral of the story is to be like Henry Soames; to be open and generous, even if agonizing over your worldview, and take up your cross. Compare this possibly with Abraham in Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling."
Freund, and to a lesser degree, Loomis, forfeit what is good and true and of value in life by their lack of interest in other human beings. (consider Freund's accident with the flower store owner and their conversation prior and Loomis and the goat lady).
Perhaps also the book raises the question as to whether these characters are self-made men by their free will and choices, or if they are predestined and resigned to their fates.
When I first picked up Gardner's "Becoming a Novelist," his tone put me off. I ended up picking it up about 6 years later and have come to appreciate his sensibilities. He seems to have been a concerned, intelligent and authentic soul, and I would have enjoyed being in a creative writing class taught by him.
Nickel Mountain never received the acclaim of some of Gardner's other books, particularly Grendel, which remains in print, but it deserves to be back on the shelf. For in it Gardner has conjured majestic mystery out of seemingly ordinary rural people and landscapes.
It's 1954, and Henry Soames, 40-plus, overweight and suffering from a life-threatening heart condition, runs a diner where truckers and local farmers gather. Soon after 17-year-old Callie Wells starts working there, she becomes pregnant by Willard, a boy in whose love she had trusted. He zooms away to college, though, unreachable, leaving Callie in big trouble. She and Henry come to know and help each other; they agree to marry. Is there love? Of a sort.
Also much distress. Things Callie says in the throes of childbirth wound Henry. His heart is already damaged on more than one level: Great mountain of a man, he harbors inside a great inchoate love for people alongside a great rage at his inability to express it.
After Jimmy is born, the marriage is strained when Henry agrees to provide a home for a half-mad, Scripture-quoting Jehovah's Witness whose house has burned down, killing his wife. When the man comes under suspicion, a sense of nameless dread pervades the mountain like the fogs that descend through the trees at evening. Callie tells Henry she's scared.
" `Of what?' he said, exasperated.
" `How do I know?' she said. `I'm just scared, that's all. Really. Aren't you?' "
Henry realizes he is, because despite our boundless protectiveness for loved ones, in the end we can't protect them. His bitter, lonely friend George Loomis points this out, he who loses his arm in a grisly farm accident. The Jehovah's Witness is caught scaring Jimmy with tales of the Devil. Henry confronts him, with disastrous results.
Loss pervades this tale. People destroy each other, or themselves, without meaning to. A mysterious, itinerant Goat Lady driving a pink-and-purple cart comes on the scene, looking for her lost son, only to vanish. Terrible drought sets in. Henry sinks deeper into himself, ill-advisedly eating and gaining weight. Willard returns, not sure if he's looking for his lost son or not.
Redemption eventually raises its voice in the oppressive silences. By no means is it easily won, and it seems just out of the reach of articulation. Henry "had no words for his thoughts; the very separateness of words was contrary to what he seemed to know." But new life arises in the wilderness of the Catskills and the heart.
No cheap sentiment or smooth pieties in this novel. It shimmers with hints of Christmas and gardens and spirit without trying to direct us. "A Pastoral Novel" is the book's subtitle: pastoral in both rural and ministerial senses. We sense the urgent darkness of the soul. The final scene in a graveyard is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious, suggesting that in John Gardner's brilliant vision, life and death are not what they may seem to be.