(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Brackett Omensetter moves his pregnant wife, Lucy, and their two daughters to Gilean, a late nineteenth century town on the Ohio River. After persuading the blacksmith to hire him as an assistant, Omensetter visits Henry Pimber to rent a house. Although the gentle Pimber responds immediately to Omensetter’s charismatic ease and self-confidence, he considers Omensetter “a foolish, dirty, careless man.” Nevertheless, Omensetter’s “carelessness” stirs him, for it seems to him to be the basis of spiritual grace. Unlike Pimber, who is clumsy and heavy-hearted, Omensetter seems buoyant: “Shed of his guilty skin, who wouldn’t dance?” Pimber asks himself.

When Pimber comes by one day to collect the rent, Omensetter takes him to see a fox that fell into the well and is now trapped at the bottom. When Omensetter refuses to intervene to save the fox or do anything to put him out of his misery, Pimber shoots several rifle shots down into the well. Besides killing the fox, Pimber also wounds himself when a bullet ricochets off a stone wall and penetrates his arm. The wound becomes badly infected and leads to lockjaw, and Dr. Truxton Orcutt, the town doctor, is unable to cure him. As Pimber’s life ebbs, the Reverend Jethro Furber prays for his soul, but Omensetter prepares a beet root poultice that, to everyone’s amazement, saves Pimber’s life.

The townspeople in Gilean, already impressed by Omensetter’s manner and curious luck, now regard him with amazement. Pimber heals slowly, his gratitude toward Omensetter deepening into adulation. Having wearied of the routine of life in Gilean and of his wife’s habitual demands, Pimber feels the need to possess Omensetter’s grace and fluency, his “wide and happy” relation to the natural world...

(The entire section is 726 words.)