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Nickel Mountain by John Gardner

Nickel Mountain (edition 2007)

by John Gardner, William H. Gass (Introduction)

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Title:Nickel Mountain
Authors:John Gardner
Other authors:William H. Gass (Introduction)
Info:New Directions (2007), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library

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Nickel Mountain by John Gardner




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In Nickel Mountain, published in 1973 when John Gardner was forty but written much earlier, the author's genius is on full display. This is the story of Henry Soames, 42, who runs the Stop-Off, a diner situated along a highway in the mountainous Catskills in southeastern New York State. Henry—obese, timid, thoughtful, unambitious—waits for whatever life brings his way, much as he waits for customers to darken the door of the Stop-Off. Grossly overweight (a trait inherited from his gentle father) and with a bad heart, he is living on borrowed time and knows it, but is content to let things continue on as they are because he is simply unable to envision how his life might be different. When a neighbour asks if Henry will let his daughter work at the diner, though he fears and resents changes to his routine, he relents rather than annoy the man. Thus teenage Callie Wells enters Henry’s life, and though neither of them have any reason to think this is anything but a temporary arrangement, she stays. Henry’s passive and accepting approach to being alive means that he is little more than a spectator to his own fate, and yet we come to care deeply for him. Callie is a wisp of a girl who speaks her mind, makes mistakes and often acts rashly and ill-advisedly, and yet we grieve for her when her lover takes off and she is forced to a decision that changes her life. Gardner populates the community around the diner with a clutch of grotesques, misfits and eccentrics who—be they narrow-minded, pigheaded, brain-addled, misanthropic or some combination of the four—are always interesting. The action and setting are vividly rendered. The natural world, especially the forest, with its suggestion of things beyond our knowing and its threat of chaos, is a pervasive if murky and mysterious presence that informs the narrative at all levels. Nickel Mountain, remarkable for these reasons and more, demonstrates that even for someone like Henry Soames, life is an adventure that can lead anywhere. A major novel by one of America’s best writers. ( )
  icolford | Jan 6, 2014 |
A older, fat diner owner, who thinks he is dying of heart failure, marries a young girl pregnant by a friend of the older man. The story is punctuated by somewhat artificially by deaths that produce guilt. Very interesting vignette about a Jehovah's Witness who is accused of burning down his home in which his wife dies. Eventually the diner own feel responsible for the JW's death caused by falling down the stairs. The diner owner's marriage enriches his life. The least credible part of the story is the forgiving of the father of the young girl's child. Interesting observations about life in upstate New York. ( )
  Darrol | Aug 13, 2010 |
John Lennon once said that, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." John Gardner's early novel, Nickel Mountain, is an exploration of this theme through the life of a fat, middle aged, diner owner in the Catskills mountain region of New York. Set in the 1950's Gardner weaves a pastoral novel from a set of interconnected stories centered around Henry Soames.

Henry is a soft, sentimental character, a fixture of his community and friend to all the lonely and damaged people of his environs. When the novel opens, Henry is an outsider, operating a road side diner and gas station catering to truckers and drunks...people passing through life, adrift and alone. His clientele is a mirror image of his own life. He lives in the dilapidated lean-to room behind the diner at the edge of town. Restless and facing his own mortality, he finds a new life by accident when he hires Callie Wells, the teenage daughter of the girl he loved in high school. Callie's dream is to earn enough money to leave home and move to New York City.

When Callie becomes pregnant and is abandoned by the son a local dairy farmer, Henry offers to marry her and give her child a father. (This is a small town in the 1950's after all!) And so the central theme of the book is set into play, the manner in which chance and accident determine the course of a person's life. What is, at first, a marriage of convenience, deepens over time into a stable, rich life. It isn't the life that either imagined or deliberately sought, but it is, nevertheless, the life which they chose to build for themselves from the wreakage of their dreams.

Slowly, Henry is changed by the chance pregnancy and marriage. Callie and their son James gives his life a new meaning and direction. Where, at the beginning, Henry is operating the Stop-Off diner on the periphery of society, his new family serves to integrate him into the larger community and give him roots. By the end of the novel, the Stop-Off diner has been replaced by The Maples restaurant mirroring Henry's own transformation from a lonely outsider into a member of a larger family.

The theme of transformative chance is continued through the lives of Henry and Callie's friends and neighbors. Each life is changed and defined by some accident--a limb lost in a farming accident, a burned home, a secret hit-and-run, the death of a child. Everyone is visited and altered by fortune.

The novel obviously began life as a series of stories (the introduction suggests that they were writing workshop exercises) with a common theme and characters. After achieving success with The Sunlight Dialogs and Grendel, Gardner pulled Nickel Mountain out of the bottom drawer, polished it up and published it. The book bears the scars of its birth as it is episodic and written in slightly varying styles suggesting its early and fitful genesis. The early sections feel heavily influenced by Faulkner, but later sections show the slow emergence of Gardner's own individual style. ( )
5 vote fredbacon | Apr 17, 2009 |
Not the author of the new James Bond novels, this James Gardner tells the story of Henry Soames, a fat, gentle, middle-aged man and the young, plain girl who drifts into his life and becomes a part of it. The book chronicles Henry's efforts to make sense out of this life he is stumbling through, and at the end he appears to have succeeded in a way, even if he can't exactly articulate it (nor can this reader). At times a plodding, aimless-seeming novel, but well worth the time and thought. ( )
2 vote burnit99 | Jan 19, 2007 |
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In December, 1954, Henry Soames would hardly have said his life was just beginning.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394488830, Hardcover)


One man’s search for personal grace in a town plagued by misfortune
Henry Soames runs a diner in an eccentric rural community in the Catskills. He is anxious and overweight, and at age forty-two, suffers from poor health. When Callie Wells, Soames’s seventeen-year-old employee, is impregnated by a local boy on his way to college, it becomes apparent that both are in need of a little help. After an unsuccessful attempt to find Callie a husband, Henry accepts the role. But soon after the improbable marriage commences, strange events occur in the small town, and Henry’s pursuit of personal salvation begins. 
Written by the author of October Light and The Sunlight Dialogues, Nickel Mountain is a wonderfully conceived narrative about one man’s search for fulfillment in a lonely world.
This ebook features a new illustrated biography of John Gardner, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Gardner family and the University of Rochester Archives.


(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:55 -0400)

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