Omensetter’s Luck is a highly complex and original novel which enchants and mystifies the reader on nearly every page. The novel actually takes the form of three closely related tales, the last two progressively longer than their predecessors, all somehow dealing with the mysterious central figure of the book. The three tales (subdivided into chapters) include “The Triumph of Israbestis Tott,” “The Love and Sorrow of Henry Pimber,” and “The Reverend Jethro Furber’s Change of Heart.” Just as in “The Pedersen Kid,” Gass places his story in the familiar terrain of the Midwest, in Gilean, a small, imaginary community on the Ohio River at the turn of the twentieth century.
The broad details of the story are simple enough: Brackett Omensetter, a dark, burly harness maker, arrives in Gilean during a season of drought, rents a home from Henry Pimber, and takes a job with Mat Watson, the blacksmith. A flood arrives, and the Omensetter house survives in spite of its perilous location near the river. The myth of Omensetter’s luck begins. Omensetter’s reputation as a kind of magician or possessed man (a fiction created by the half-demented and jealous Reverend Furber) is enhanced when he cures Henry Pimber of lockjaw by using a poultice made from ordinary beets. Henry Pimber later hangs himself in a tall oak tree, Omensetter’s recently born son contracts diphtheria, and Omensetter finds Henry’s body at the same time that he refuses to seek a doctor’s help for his son. The novel...
(The entire section is 622 words.)