The Bossy Bookworm
Review of Gilded Mountain by Kate Manning
I was hooked on the gritty details of mining camp life, particularly as contrasted with the excesses in the mine owners' mansion. The author build characters and events around some of her own ancestors in Colorado in the early 1900s.
There in the sharp teeth of the Gilded Mountains, where the snow and murderous cold conspire to ruin a woman, I lost the chance to become a delicate sort of lady.... Instead, I got myself arrested as a radical and acquired a fine vocabulary.... And I'm not sorry, for it was all of my education in those two years, about right and wrong.
Kate Manning's Gilded Mountain is set in early 1900s Colorado as Sylvie Pelletier leaves her family's mountain cabin to work for the affluent Padgetts, who own the marble-mining company that employs Sylvie's father and many other men in the small town of Moonstone.
Sylvie is quickly shocked by the excesses she sees--and by the sometimes stark disconnect between what the family members say and what they do.
However, she is also captivated by the family's wealth and comfort--and by extension, her own. She feels guilty at her deep fascination with various fancy foods and dress. She also finds herself taken with Jace, the treasured son of the Padgett family, who is himself torn between family duty, secrets, and doing "one right thing," a way of navigating the world that Sylvie has learned from her mother. Yet at the same time she becomes fascinated by George--the rough union organizer who flits in and out of town--and the trouble that seems to follow him.
Some lies we tell to make them true, like wishes. All is well. Then there are the lies laid carefully on top of lies, sediment hardening to stone, covering shame and secrets.
The Padgetts' abominable treatment of their workers draws the attention of union organizers, a brutally honest newspaper editor, and Sylvie herself. With her own family's livelihood--and the local industry--in the Padgetts' hands, tensions threaten to explode the community.
Strikes are all the same. Same songs. Same reasons. Same hope and rage. In those years it was struggle and strife all over the mountains.
I was taken with the details of mining-company life and the contrast against the lush life of excess in the Padgett mansion. Sylvie's torn feelings and warring sense of duty and desire for youthful joy and carefree moments felt real and brought me into the story. The tough newspaper owner K.T. was a great character and mentor for Sylvie, and I loved the accounts of reporting and printing on a printing press as well as the conflicts and resilience of reporting contentious occurrences.
Later in the story, events surrounding marble mining and workers' conditions (strike, resistance, destruction, scabs, complicated negotiations, and broken promises) and in Sylvie's life (mixed emotions, attraction, confusion, lies, and secrets) make for jumbled-feeling pacing, and the end of the book involves a significant amount of summary as later events are recounted and as issues such as money, secrets, and retribution are resolved.
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of Scribner and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
I love a Western-set story. If you also like stories like this, you might enjoy the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West.