In Nickel Mountain, Gardner’s skillful manipulation of point of view carries the burden of characterization. Although the novel is written in the third person, the majority of its chapters are constructed around single and identifiable centers of consciousness. Each of the characters central to the action of the novel serves as the organizing point of view for its different sections. By tempering the conventions of the pastoral (Nickel Mountain is subtitled “A Pastoral Novel”) with the ability of the novel form to accommodate competing points of view, Gardner develops principal characters who are neither idealized nor sentimentalized.
The first of the novel’s eight titled sections is narrated from Henry’s perspective. Desperately lonely and preoccupied with his heart condition, Henry is a terrified man who passionately confesses his fears to whomever he corners in his diner. Far from affording him any relief, such outbursts to strangers and casual acquaintances leave him shocked and humiliated by their impropriety and violence; more often than not, after making his apologies, he finds himself sobbing, with his head on his counter. The novel’s third section, “The Edge of the Woods,” primarily concerned with Callie’s complicated delivery, is also mediated through Henry’s agitated consciousness. Through his marriage to Callie, Henry has begun the affirmative work of spiritual renovation, but the carefully controlled point of view, limiting itself to Henry’s perceptions of the events going on around him, underlines how much Henry is still an alienated and...
(The entire section is 655 words.)