Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life

Overview

On sabbatical from his professorship at the University of Pittsburgh, native West Virginian Chuck Kinder (portrayed as Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS and played by Michael Douglas in the film) makes a midlife pilgrimage to his homeland to reimagine and reconnect with that fabled, fantastic country. Confronting the regrets and heartaches of his past, present, and future, Kinder seeks solace in the funny and bawdy family stories, lies, legends, and history that reside in West Virginia's haunted hills ...
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Overview

On sabbatical from his professorship at the University of Pittsburgh, native West Virginian Chuck Kinder (portrayed as Grady Tripp in Michael Chabon's WONDER BOYS and played by Michael Douglas in the film) makes a midlife pilgrimage to his homeland to reimagine and reconnect with that fabled, fantastic country. Confronting the regrets and heartaches of his past, present, and future, Kinder seeks solace in the funny and bawdy family stories, lies, legends, and history that reside in West Virginia's haunted hills and the hollows of his memory. But more than anything, Kinder goes all-out to live it up hillbilly style-and the results make this wicked Appalachian outlaw one helluva traveling companion.

Immersing himself among the lives of mountaineer characters, both the quick and the dead, the bad-boy author bears holy witness to the triumphs and misdeeds of the loafers and misfits, winos and oddball characters of his homeland. Playing story catcher and storyteller, Kinder chases down and re-tells yarns of bloody mine wars, outlaws on the run, roadhouse romance, barroom brawlers, beerjoint ballerinas, and a man who calls himself the last mountain dancer. It's Planet West Virginia-inhabited bymothmen, moonshiners, and family feudists-and as its aura envelops Kinder, he stakes a claim to his own famous role in the outlaw state's ongoing narrative. LAST MOUNTAIN DANCER will quicken your hillbilly heart.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the beginning of this bawdy, in your face, hugely entertaining bear of a book, Kinder explains that he intends to tell readers about his home state, West Virginia, land of "legendary mountain dancers, moonshiners, stupendous marijuana farmers, snakehandlers, blood-feudists, mystery midgets, mothmen [and] horny space aliens who drop into my home state as regular as clock-work in order to engage in extra-terrestrial sex with a multitude of juicy West Virginia majorettes...." On sabbatical from his professorship at the University of Pittsburgh, Kinder travels home to mine the state's legendary depravity. Family members, old drinking buddies, new drinking buddies and a host of others flood the narrative. Sparks fly, plans are hatched, threats are made and a lot of legally questionable activity is engaged in, and Kinder's fine prose relates it all. But the sheer density of outlandish behavior and credibility-stretching hijinks can, at times, be exhausting. Through the unending consumption of booze, controlled substances and sex, Kinder seems unable (or unwilling) to let any detail go unmentioned. He thereby loses a bit of perspective on both the foreground subject (Kinder and his life and travails), as well as the background (West Virginia and its place in the annals of strange and nobly benighted Americana). Still, Kinder's unflappable, humble demeanor and heartbreaking humanity hold this sometimes unwieldy book together. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On sabbatical from his job teaching college writing at the University of Pittsburgh, Kinder (Snakehunter, Silver Ghost, and Honeymooners) travels the back roads of his home state in his truck, trying to live the life of a hard-drinking, fornicating, genuine West Virginian. Married, but having an affair with a much younger mother of two, he struggles to write about his heritage and survive a midlife crisis. Yet his strength lies in his storytelling ability, as when he relates the time he met Sen. Robert Byrd hanging out with the locals or recalls Sid Hatfield, gunned-down folk hero of the unionized coal miners. The text abounds in historical anecdotes, e.g., an account of the secret bomb shelter beneath the Greenbrier Hotel, which reportedly duplicated the whole resort underground. Though the book is funny, outrageous, and irreverent as it probes the mountains and hollows for the oddballs and barflies living there, Kinder tries too hard to be the bad boy, which limits the book's appeal to those interested in West Virginia honky-tonk life. Recommended with some reservations for large public libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist Kinder (Honeymooners, 2001, etc.) pours out sudden, undomesticated, melancholy word songs from his home place, where he's returned to gather stories for stewing in his imagination and memory. On sabbatical from his teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh-and, not incidentally, from his wife of 20 years-the author holes up in small-town West Virginia to appropriate the stories of "mountaineer characters, both the quick and the dead, among both my family members and strangers." Here in the haunted hills of his youth, along their twisty roads, he will rediscover "a mostly imagined interior landscape populated by mythic beings: legendary mountain dancers, moonshiners, stupendous marijuana farmers, snakehandlers, blood-feudists, mystery midgets, mothmen, horny space aliens," to which can be added Hank Williams and Saint Elvis, lover Holly and lover Mary X, a grace-sent sister, Matewan and Blair Mountain, and enough George Dickel to float a boat. Kinder is also there to take mid-life stock of himself: the stories of his youth have a wicked, poignant bite, but they are much of what shaped him today, with all the lying and cheating and wild behavior. It's not ultimately too surprising that the guy who calls Sid Hatfield "that wisecracking, wiry, killer nihilist magical West Virginian warrior" should later find himself "armed to the teeth, driving my redneck, ritual-feudist kinfolks around in rain that was becoming black and whispery . . . happy as a clam." Scouting out strange and grief-filled stories, then recounting them with peerless "pure High Hillbilly" flair, Kinder is weak on the emotional front; his wife has him squarely in the crosshairs when she says, "You always havetried to live your life like a country song. Full of fucking melodrama and cheap sentimentality." He is impenitent, ready to kick back the piano stool the better to hammer the keys: "Who else did I have to bare my so-called soul to, except perhaps the world at large?" Lucky us, to be out there in the audience. Agent: Faith Hamlin/Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786716531
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/9/2005
  • Pages: 457
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author


Chuck Kinder is a native West Virginian. He has worked as a coal miner, bartender, bouncer, bandit, cook, and college professor. As a young itinerant professor he taught at Stanford University, the University of California at Davis, and the University of Alabam at Tuscaloosa. The auhtor of the novels SNAKEHUNTER, SILVER GHOST, and HONEYMOONERS, Kinder is well-known as the real-life counterpart to Grady Tripp, the professor played by Michael Douglas in the film based on Michael Chabon’s WONDER BOYS. He is currently Director of the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Planet West Virginia xi
Book 1 Famous Old Daddy
The Girl With No Face 3
Town Boy 11
Scientific Boy 20
Shadow Boy 24
Outlaw Boy 36
The Real Beginning of My Famous Life 45
The Highest Traditions of the American Soldier 52
Belt of Orion 58
Book 2 Famous Little Sister
The Sweet Safety of the Rest of Our Lives 61
The Place Luck Goes When It is Finished with Us 68
Blind Dog 73
Ugly Baby 79
Body Parts 85
Pulling Up Aces 91
Crippled Flasher 98
A Multitude of Bills 103
Delivering the Body of the Dead Star 107
Stalking the Story 110
My Bad Side 114
Beerjoint Ballerinas 120
Bogeymen in Love 125
Book 3 Famous Feudists
Sweet Suicide 133
Hillbilly History 141
Goddamned Rhododendron 151
That Sweet Anarchy We Call Youth 155
Mountain Law 163
Blind Tourist 172
A Dead-End Town Named Romance 180
Big Iron 186
Book 4 Famous Ancient Indians & Mothmen & Momma
Land of the Sky People 191
Ghost of the Indian Under the Tree 197
Pictures of the Dead 202
The Story of My Mother's Life in Her Own Words 212
Girl on the Red Bike 218
Mystery Midgets and Other Bizarre Beings 224
Body in the Woods 230
Girl by the Road in the Rain 236
Book 5 Famous Dancing Outlaw
Shot Through the Heart 243
The Preacher's Porch 248
Elvis in the Land of Shadow Men 255
The Secret Lives of Elvis 262
Stranger Stew 268
Tell Me About It 277
The King is Back 283
That Bright New Skin We Call Fame 286
Book 6 Famous Family Life
Ghost Rock 297
Road-Kill Cafe 302
Carrot Boy 308
Total Wreck 311
The Right to Stand with Men 314
Hotel Angel 322
King of Pork 328
Bear in the Woods 333
Book 7 Famous Lost Love
Lost World 343
The Unknown Confederate Dead 351
Sixteen Tons 357
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do 363
The Secret Inner Life of West Virginia 368
Book 8 Famous Mystery Tour
Knocked Up 373
Interiors Impossible to Speak Of 381
Wishbone 387
Point of Honor 393
Missing Angels 399
Mystery Hole 403
Store-Bought Angel 409
Book 9 Famous Last Dance
Ghosts of the Headless Coeds 419
Ghost Mayor 426
Different Creek 431
Ghost Geography 434
Stars and Bars 441
A Part of This World and A Part of Another 448
Acknowledgments 455
About the Author 459
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