Thursday, October 11, 2007

John Gardner's Nickel Mountain

Right now I am reading John Gardner's Nickel Mountain. The descriptions of the hills are particularly evocative to me as I lived in central New York during my college years, and seeing the hills on a misty morning always made me feel a little melancholy but also glad to see and experience such beauty. The rural areas of New York, outside the affluent Hudson Valley towns, have a good deal of that melancholy; it's small farming dying in America.

I love the character Henry Soames, a morbidly obese middle-aged man who runs a diner and ends up marrying the pregnant teenager that works at the diner. Even before the advent of the "sensitive man," Gardner captured all the thoughtful and often somnambulant qualities of a person who does very little but think about human life and human interactions. Soames takes after his father, a man who died early weighing 360 pounds and was bitterly mocked by his wife for his "feminine" qualities. Sometimes, Soames thoughts on being human, and the sadness of being human, become too much for him and he will break into a rant to an old Polish man who frequents his diner in the middle of the night for a spot of hard liquor with his coffee.

This one part, which Gardner places in parenthesis, when Soames listens to a teenaged boy speaking about his ambition to be a race car driver captures Soames' character perfectly:

Henry was not convinced of it [that the boy would become a race car driver], though even to himself he'd never pinned down his doubt with words; he knew only that the boy had a certain kind of nerve and a hunger to win and the notion-- a notion that everyone on earth has, perhaps, at least for awhile -- that he was born unique, set apart from the rest.

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