"On Kingdom Mountain"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple NOV 23, 2007)
"To a true Kingdom Mountain Kinneson, progress is saving the last of our dwindling wild countryside for future generations so that they may know where they came from and who their ancestors were and, knowing that, have a clearer idea of who they are and who they may yet become. On Kingdom Mountain, the past lives on as part of the present. Indeed it is the present."
The ninth of Howard Frank Mosher's novels to be set in the Northeast Kingdom, the northeastern corner of Vermont butting up against the Canadian border, On Kingdom Mountain is a "character novel" featuring one of Mosher's best-drawn personalities. Jane Hubbell Kinneson, almost fifty, is the essence of self-reliance during the Depression which has engulfed the country. Accustomed to fending for herself, she "didn't need much income. She burned her own wood, ate her own venison, moose, and trout, cultivated a large kitchen garden, cut her ice on the river, compounded her own medicines, walked all over her mountain for exercise, and had no taxes or electric or phone bills to pay." The mountain is hers and hers alone. By tradition, it is not part of Vermont or Canada, though it straddles the international boundary.
Miss Jane has been a schoolteacher, baseball coach, and bookstore owner, among other things, and one day a week she still manages the Atheneum, the tiny library where she occasionally gives talks to two or three real humans and a dozen "dear people," statues of her ancestors which she has carved of wood. A prize-winning woodcarver for her life-like bird carvings, she is particularly fascinated by birds "in strife," like the hawk capturing a rabbit. "Strife," she says, "is the way of the world." And strife is what she has aplenty on her mountain. Her cousin Eben, a lawyer, has big plans to have a Connector road bulldozed across her mountain in the name of "progress," so that people can save time and avoid traveling around it, the only problem being that there is nothing yet for the Connector to connect to—no road has been built in Canada.
In the early spring of 1930, as Miss Jane prepares to pull in her ice-fishing shack on Lake Memphremagog, she catches a 25-pound lake trout. Inside it is a one-foot long brook trout, and inside the brook trout is a double eagle gold piece from 1852. Gifted with "second sight," she believes that "found money" means a stranger is coming, and within minutes a spluttering biplane, identified as "Henry Satterfield's Flying Circus Rainmaking and Pyrotechnic Services Beaumont Texas" makes a crash-landing on the lake ice. Henry Satterfield, injured, agrees to take refuge in her huge barn, eventually being persuaded to accept use of the guest room directly above her own bedroom. There, he and she enjoy "featherbed chats" at night through the grate in the floor. Henry's stay lasts for many months, and Miss Jane shares her life on the mountain with him while he recuperates.
Of particular interest to Henry Satterfield, during his stay, is the legend that $100,000 in double-eagle gold pieces, robbed from the local bank by two Confederate soldiers, who high-tailed it to Canada, is buried somewhere on Kingdom Mountain. Henry has acquired part of a riddle from his Confederate grandfather containing clues about the treasure, and, in a dream, he sees his grandfather and Miss Jane's father corresponding, suggesting a connection which could provide the second half of the riddle. Warned that she should not trust Henry, with whom she is falling in love, Miss Jane Kinneson soon has many reasons to suspect that he is up to no good. Still, she enjoys his company, and she persuades him to help her with some particularly difficult mountain chores.
In this cozy, down-home novel, local color is all, and many oddball characters, their way of life, their "strifes," their family histories, and their plans for the future all give life to Kingdom Common and to the homestead on Kingdom Mountain where Miss Jane rules as "the duchess." As the seasons change, the threat of the Connector road increases, as does Henry's interest in the gold treasure. Though Miss Jane believes that "On Kingdom Mountain there are few coincidences. Only consequences," the last sixty pages of this novel contain one coincidence after another. The author is careful to show how these coincidences are "consequences" of actions from a generation or more ago, but the sheer number of surprises is astounding. As the action, new characters, and knowledge of new interconnections develops, the novel builds to a bang-up conclusion (filled with yet more coincidences and ironies), which will satisfy readers who have identified with the quirky and often charming characters.
Mosher's nine novels set in the Northeast (or Upper) Kingdom, taken together, create a panoramic vision of the social and cultural history of this unique area over the course of several generations in the mid-twentieth century. For modern readers, who rarely remain tied to the earth or to the community where they were born, a literary "visit" to Kingdom Common provides an opportunity to turn back the clock and vicariously experience the slower, more basic, and more independent life of their parents, or grandparents. Filled with nostalgia, this novel, like many of Mosher's others, provides the reader with a warm smile and a temporary respite from the sometimes chaotic present.
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
Chapter excerpt for On Kingdom Mountain at the Houghton Mifflin(top of page)
"Waiting for Teddy Williams"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple AUG 22, 2004)
"Baseball, of all sports, and maybe of all human endeavors, has no room for cynicism. But when it came to the [Red] Sox, the Colonel's hopes were diminished. When the Yankees waltzed into Fenway for a Sunday twin bill, he hoped for a split. When the Sox were slated to play two at the Stadium, he prayed for rain."
A novel to warm the hearts of baseball lovers everywhere, and especially in the Red Sox Nation, Mosher's Waiting for Teddy Williams is the story of dreams and what it takes to make them come true. Grittier and less romantic than Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella (and its film version, Field of Dreams), this novel tells the story of Ethan Allen, known as E. A., the son of single mother Gypsy Lee. Eight years old when the novel opens, E. A. lives in Kingdom Common, a rural Vermont town which may be the most baseball-loving town in America, a place where every radio is always tuned in to Fenway Park broadcasts when the Red Sox are playing, and where evenings are spent watching the town team's spirited games on the common. Kids practice throwing baseballs through tires hanging from the rafters of old barns, mothers help their sons with catching and throwing, and strangers sometimes help youngsters who want to learn the fine points of the game.
E. A. is needier than many other local children because he does not know who his father is, and no one will tell him. His mother, Gypsy Lee, left college after her freshman year, when she became pregnant with E. A., and now lives with her crotchety mother, who took to her wheelchair and refused ever to walk again after the Red Sox's 1978 pennant loss when Bucky Dent's home run ended Boston's chance at the World Series. Very bright and intellectually curious, Gypsy Lee is home-schooling E. A., and she is a devoted mother, but she is also a one-woman escort service and sometime country singer and song-writer. She feeds the family during the winter on poached deer, an occasional moose, and fresh woodchucks. Their next door neighbor, the lawless Davis, is constantly threatening to bulldoze their barn at the same time that he is dumping motor oil into the brook, pushing abandoned cars into wetlands, and killing loons. When E. A. needs someone to talk to, he goes not to the local minister, who is one of Gypsy Lee's kinkier clients, but to the statue of the Colonel in the square, where he pours out his heart—and gets answers.
When a stranger, thought to be a drifter who has followed the railroad tracks to the back of the Allens' property, appears and gives some baseball pointers to E. A., E. A. listens, and as the man comes back in successive summers, disappearing as winter arrives, E. A. comes to depend on his knowledge. In time, the drifter is identified as Edward "Teddy" Williams. Over the next ten years, Teddy Williams shows up to help E. A. with his baseball skills and his potential baseball career. Through baseball, E. A. develops, not just as a baseball player, but as a human being, learning lessons for the real world at the same time that he is honing his skills in pitching, fielding, and hitting.
Not surprisingly, the time eventually comes when a scout for the Red Sox sees E. A., and he, by then seventeen years old, has the opportunity to help the team. Elderly Maynard O'Leary, the Red Sox owner, has died, and Junior, his son, also known as "the lummox," sees this as his opportunity to get back at his father. Doing whatever it takes to dismantle the team, he sells off three key players, raises ticket prices, and decides he'll sell the team to a group from Beverly Hills—unless the Red Sox win the World Series. E. A., a pitcher, he has a chance to appear in the deciding game.
Mosher tells a charming story of oddball characters who behave outrageously, united only in their love of the Red Sox and baseball. Though the characters are not exactly fully rounded, they are winsome and often very funny, and E. A. is typical of many young kids who love baseball and would do anything to help the (very needy) Red Sox. Gypsy Lee, Gran, and Davis are over-the-top and "unrealistic" as characters, and they are fairly typical of the many quirky characters here, but in their love of the Red Sox they become "human" and believable in ways that only a true baseball fan can understand.
Mosher obviously had great fun writing this novel, and the last section in which E. A. helps the Red Sox in the final game of the pennant race against the dreaded New York Yankees so they can go on to face the New York Mets in the World Series, is filled with all the excitement of a real baseball series. Light, fun, populated with unique characters, all of whom love baseball, and filled with the lessons of life which baseball fans believe can only come from the game, Waiting for Teddy Williams is a novel to warm the hearts of fans. As August rolls around and it may begin to look as if the team will, once again, wrest defeat from the jaws of victory, this novel is perfect antidote to the belief that once again the team will break our hearts. Whether or not you are a Red Sox fan, if you love baseball, you will enjoy the spirit of this charming coming-of-age novel and will root for E.A. to be successful. And just as people once cheered for Teddy Baseball, here they will also cheer for Teddy Williams, mentor and teacher of new Red Sox pitcher Ethan Allen.
- Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Disappearances (1977)
- Where the River Flows North (1978)
- Marie Blythe (1983)
- A Stranger in the Kingdom (1989)
- Northern Borders (1994)
- The Fall of the Year (1999)
- The True Account: A Novel of the Lewis & Clark & Kinneson Expeditions (May 2003)
- Waiting for Teddy Williams (August 2004)
- On Kingdom Mountain (July 2007)
Books made into movies:
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- Hunger Mountain Howard Frank Mosher fiction prize
- The New York Times review of A Stranger in the Kingdom (movie)
- UPNE on Where the Rivers Flow North
- Knight-Ridder review of North Country
- BookReporter.com review of The True Account
- lection review of Waiting for Teddy Williams
- Nimble Spirit review of On Kingdom Mountain
- Andover Townsmanship interview regarding On Kingdom Mountain
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About the Author:
Howard Frank Mosher has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “a combination of Ernest Hemingway, Henry David Thoreau, and Jim Harrison.” He has received a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature Award, the American Civil Liberties Union Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the New England Book Award.
Mosher was born in upstate New York, he is a longtime resident of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, where he lives with Phillis, his wife of nearly four decades—the inspiration for Yellow Sage Flower Who Tells Wise Stories in The True Account. They have two children.