The Mammoth Cheese

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When presidential candidate Adams Brooke promises a debt amnesty for small farmers, Margaret Prickett seizes on it as the one hope to save her ancestral farmstead. She works feverishly for his election, and decides to honor him with a mammoth cheese, reprising a gift to Thomas Jefferson two centuries before.

While the cheese is curing, Margaret’s own life continues its bumpy course. Her contractor ex-husband continually misses his child support payments. Daughter Polly nurses multiple resentments and weaves romantic fantasies around her history teacher. Beyond the immediate family, neighbor Manda Frank panics at the demands of her multiple-birth babies. Margaret’s longtime, and only, employee August Vaughn quits, stung by her matter of fact acceptance of his devotion.

When the cheese reaches Washington, the gesture goes awry. Among other things, Margaret hadn’t counted on a recalcitrant Congress—or a daughter inflamed by sexual frustration and radical rhetoric. By this time, however, it’s clear that the real journey is not about getting the cheese to the President, or even about saving a dairy farm.

Margaret herself is a stubborn woman, who forbids her daughter fast food and scary movies, and refuses the obvious solution of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Yet she evokes sympathy because she cares so very much. The book has about five other major characters, each with their own story arcs. Two almost-characters inhabit the book as well: the history-steeped town of Three Chimneys, Virginia, and the persona of Thomas Jefferson. These bring another level of richness to the story. A few unrealistic touches, like the live birth of a set of eleven babies, may mar the book for some readers. This caveat aside, The Mammoth Cheese tells an absorbing and multi-dimensional tale.