Henry Holt / June 25, 2013 / $28.00 print, $12.74 digital
On the surface, Charlie Burden and Natty Oaks could not be more different: She, the daughter of many generations of rural farmers; he, an executive at a multi-national engineering firm. But, in each other, they find the new lease on life they both so desperately need.
Natty dreams of a life beyond her small town. She is unhappily married to her high school crush (who now spends more time at the bar than at home) and passes the time nursing retired miners, coaching her son, The Pie Man's, soccer team and running the mountain trails she knows by heart, longing to get away from it all.
Charlie has everything he ever thought he wanted, but after 25 years of climbing the corporate ladder, he no longer recognizes his own life: his job has become bureaucratic paper-pushing, his wife is obsessed with their country-club status, and his children have grown up and moved on. When he is sent to West Virginia to oversee a mining project, it is a chance to escape his stuffy life; to get involved, instead of watching from the sidelines. Arriving in Red Bone, though, he gets more than he bargained for: his new friends become the family he was missing and Natty, the woman who reminds him what happiness feels like. When his company's plans threaten to destroy Natty's family land, his loyalties are questioned and he is forced to choose between his old life and his new love in a fight for Redemption Mountain.
In the best of both worlds, booklovers find a book that both entertains and educates, and Gerry FitzGerald's Redemption Mountain definitely fits that bill, especially with its insights on coal mining practices.
As an engineer, Charlie is tired of the office politics, and asks Lucien Mackey, his firm’s managing general partner, to put him back in the field. The project in China seems perfect—building the two giant hydroelectric dams that ultimately will provide electricity to a hundred million people, a challenging project, plus exposure to a new culture. When his boss calls him in, Charlie assumes he is getting his wish. However, Charlie is too valuable to his client Duncan McCord, head of OntAmex Energy and one of the most powerful men in the utility business in North America. It seems that OntAmex Energy have gotten themselves in a bit of a bind in West Virginia. Representatives from the company agreed to the Governor’s stipulation that they use local coal. The problem now is that the mining company wants to use mountaintop-removal mining, even though there is an injunction against it.
“Charlie, are you familiar with term mountaintop-removal mining?”
“Sure. It’s a surface-mining technique. But I thought it had been outlawed in most places."
“You’re right. A federal judge handed down an injunction barring the EPA from issuing any permits in West Virginia, where, as you might expect, it was doing the most damage.” Lucien hesitated, reluctant to put his company and himself at odds with an important client. “It’s an insidious practice, Charlie. It’s an environmental crime that for years was rationalized in the name of jobs and local economics. The mining companies would say, in effect, if you want us to continue mining operations here, and you want the jobs and the tax revenue, then you have to let us destroy your mountain and fill in your valleys and streambeds.
Also, the previous engineers put the cooling pond in the wrong location. However, to move it, they need to get the town’s permission. Since the managers on the project haven’t been using local people, the townspeople are going to be a tough sell, plus many of them have long memories of the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster in 1972:
After a week of snow and rain, a series of three coal-waste dams breached, sending 130 million gallons of water crashing down the narrow valley of Buffalo creek in southeastern Logan County. When the twenty-foot-high wall of black water and coal-waste sludge had finished it eighteen-mile path of destruction, five towns had been totally obliterated and nine others severely damaged.
But the information about coal mining is just a small portion of the story. The story is about ethical, moral, caring people like Charlie, married to Ellen for over twenty years, but now dealing with the fact she recently had an affair.
Charlie thought about Ellen and how it had become harder and harder to share her interests and ambitions. The last few years, with the kids gone, had been so different from the first twenty years of their marriage.
And Natty, married to the boy she dreamed about all through high school, who hasn’t forgiven her for turning up pregnant:
They rode for several minutes before Natty spoke again. “Buck that was the last time. You can’t hit me no more, ever.”
Nat, I swear—”
Natty cut him off. “And you can’t see that woman in Northfork. You got to choose. If you go again, don’t you ever come back to me. I mean it, Buck.”
But the book also about the people in the community. Like Pie Man, Natty’s child:
On his head he wore a dark-blue cap turned backward, like kids everywhere. His skin was fair, with a good coating of summer freckles. As he rocked slowly forward and back on his bike, observing the tall stranger, the boy could have been just an average ten-or eleven-year-old, Charlie guessed, except for the mongoloid features of his head and face and his short, thick legs and arms. Charlie flashed back to his own brief but intense research effort into the affliction of Down syndrome, some twelve years earlier. . .
“Can you speak, son?”
The boy’s face relaxed, his eyes widening with some amusement. “Course I can thpeak. You think I’m thum dummy?” His voice had a hint of hoarseness.
Well, no. I wasn’t sure, that’s all.”
Charlie is put to the test as he faces his biggest ethical dilemmas both personally and professionally. He has a responsibility to his client, but doesn’t he also have a responsibility to the people living in this community? People like Emma Lowe:
Natty was excited for her star player. This would be Emma’s ticket out of McDowell County. She wasn’t going to be trapped here in the mountains. “Ain’t that great Em?” Natty enthused. “The University of North Carolina!” Emma smiled and whispered to Natty. Natty laughed. “Emma wants to know if you know Mia Hamm?”
The scouts both laughed. “No,” the woman answered. “Mia was gone before we got there.” She shook Emma’s hand. “But I hope I’m there when Emma Lowe arrives.”
The more you read the more you become entwined in the community, the characters and their struggles.
Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Redemption Mountain by Gerry FitzGerald before its June 25 release:
Leigh Davis, Blogger