The Mammoth Cheese

The Mammoth Cheese

3.4 9
by Sheri Holman

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An Our Town for our times, The Mammoth Cheese is beautifully crafted and driven by warm, vibrant characters as it follows the residents of rural Three Chimneys, Virginia, on their journey to re-create the original Thomas Jefferson-era, 1,235-pound "Mammoth Cheese." As the book opens, the town is joyously celebrating the birth of the Frank Eleven: eleven babies… See more details below


An Our Town for our times, The Mammoth Cheese is beautifully crafted and driven by warm, vibrant characters as it follows the residents of rural Three Chimneys, Virginia, on their journey to re-create the original Thomas Jefferson-era, 1,235-pound "Mammoth Cheese." As the book opens, the town is joyously celebrating the birth of the Frank Eleven: eleven babies simultaneously born to Manda and James Frank after fertility treatments. But as autumn progresses and the babies weaken, the community seeks to redeem itself through the making and transporting of a symbolic Mammoth Cheese to Washington, as a gift for the newly elected President Brooke. The cheese is the brainchild of August Vaughn, a farmhand by day and a President Jefferson impersonator by night, and the creation of Margaret Prickett, a single mother and cheese maker trying to save her century-old family farm. Sheri Holman seamlessly weaves together the lives of Three Chimneys, delving into her characters' inescapable family histories as they grapple with religion, divorce, politics, and unrequited love. The Mammoth Cheese is a triumphant exploration of the burdens and joys of rural America and the debts we owe to history, our parents, and ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Like the 1,200-pound cheese of the title, Sheri Holman's novel is a big, ambitious enterprise. Unlike many such enterprises -- though again like the cheese -- it possesses, page by page, or bite by bite if you prefer, an intense, refined and lingering flavor. — Richard Eder
The Washington Post
Holman deftly weaves these stories together, as well as a series of subplots, some of which are profoundly moving. Will Margaret ever notice the Jefferson re-enactor who loves her? Will Polly fall victim to the predatory Harvey March? And what will Washington make of a mammoth cheese floating down the Potomac? That first big cheese may have been a particularly silly slice of Americana, but from it Holman has fashioned a tale that is poignant and powerful and, like an award-winning cheese, surprisingly complex. — Chris Bohjalian
Publishers Weekly
Set in the jittery postboom present, in Three Chimneys, Va., this inventive, offbeat novel by Holman (The Dress Lodger), weaves a deft consideration of American history and political ideals into an exuberantly eccentric tale of smalltown life. With the help of fertility drugs, Manda Frank has just given birth prematurely to 11 babies, and the whole town is reveling in the media attention. But Manda can't quite bond with her fragile brood and feels besieged by their "glittering black fathomless eyes, full of seawater and accusation." Meanwhile, Manda's neighbor Margaret Prickett, about to lose her 18th-century dairy farm, strives desperately for face time with Gov. Adams Brooke, who is running for president on a profarm platform. So obsessed is Margaret with Brooke's candidacy that she blinds herself to 13-year-old daughter Polly's dangerously blooming crush on her American history teacher, as well as to a declaration of love by farmhand August Vaughn, a "living historian" who dresses up as Thomas Jefferson. Then the Frank babies start to die, the cameras leave town and the mood turns ugly. August's father, Pastor Leland Vaughn, comes up with a diversionary tactic: Margaret will recreate the 1,235-pound wheel of cheese presented to Jefferson by Massachusetts Baptists and deliver it to the newly elected President Brooke. What ensues on the banks of the Potomac is unconvincingly violent, but it's the only misstep in a work that dazzles with its combination of history, religion, political satire and tragedy. Every character here is a delicately nuanced, vivid creation-even Margaret's cows, standing "dreamily by like bobbi-soxers, chewing their bright pink Bazooka cud." Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Aug.) Forecast: This is a departure for Holman, whose previous two novels were historical. Here she proves herself adept at contemporary settings as well, while retaining a historical angle. Backed by a $100,000 promo budget and a 12-city author tour, the novel may very well match the success of The Dress Lodger, which has sold more than 200,000 copies to date. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This wonderfully complex novel is set in Three Chimneys, a rural community in Virginia, a state that has been intrinsically involved in the history of the United States. It is a community that believes in hard work, religion and patriotism, but many of those beliefs are challenged by reality. One reality is the "miracle" birth of 11 babies to one of its poor residents and the subsequent death of some of them. Another is the demise of the small farmer, as typified by Margaret Pricket who is struggling to maintain her family dairy farm. Another is the belief that our children are safe in a small town and that we can trust our government. All these issues become wrapped up in the town's effort to recreate a "mammoth cheese" that was presented to Thomas Jefferson. The characters and plot make a good story, but the author has also created a written montage of some of the issues of modern-day America. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2003, Grove, 442p., Ages 17 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
The story of the inhabitants of Three Chimneys, VA, as they struggle with life, death, and love is woven from many different threads that come together to make a whole cloth. The characters include an adolescent child of divorce with a crush on an unprincipled teacher; a shy, insecure man afraid that life has passed him by and is hiding in the identity of his hero; a minister trying to bring the community together and doubting his wisdom; and a desperate woman who is trying to save her birthright and, in the process, is losing her daughter. All strive to do the best they can, but their human flaws sabotage their progress. Talented Laurel Merlington reads with sensitivity and precision; she brings an understanding voice that involves the listener in the motivations and limitations of each character. Her pacing and pitch are always on target, and her Southern accent is gentle. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.-Juleigh Muirhead Clark, John D. Rockefeller Jr. Lib., Colonial Williamsburg Fdn., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rambunctious third novel from the author of A Stolen Tongue (1997) and The Dress Lodger (2000). This time out, Holman virtuosically entangles two arresting plotlines: the ripple effects of the birth of (count 'em) eleven babies to an exhausted Virginia woman and the creation and transportation to Washington of the eponymous protein source. When "Manda" Frank, scion of a white-trash family, in the tidy, history-rich town of Three Chimneys, produces unprecedented results of her consumption of fertility drugs, well-meaning neighbors shower the beleaguered Franks with gifts and promises; presidential candidate Adams Brooke (the self-proclaimed "Farmer's Friend") drops by, and fiscally embattled dairy farmer Margaret Prickett is persuaded to re-create an obscure incident from the presidency of Thomas Jefferson: the creation and delivery to the White House of a 1200-pound wheel of cheese. Holman's enthralling narrative, which ranges among the experiences and interrelationships of several expertly drawn characters, also incorporates an impressive amount of detailed information about such resolutely untrendy matters as farming, cheesemaking, animal husbandry, house construction, and the flexible,if austere moral nature of one of our most ingenious and articulate Founding Fathers. Poor Manda Frank's nightmarish maternity (exacerbated when several babies inevitably die) is smartly juxtaposed with Margaret's initially passionate, eventually wavering support of the pragmatic Brooke, and her conflicted relations with two other beautifully realized characters: her hired hand August Vaughn, a part-time "Chautauquan living historian" (i.e., Thomas Jefferson impersonator), unable to declare his love forMargaret; and her adolescent daughter Polly, herself seeking "liberation" through a romantic fixation on her intense, challenging history teacher. All strands are conjoined as the cheese marches to Washington, shepherded by Holman's most winningly complex character: Pastor Leland Vaughn (August's father), a tireless Christian worker torn between his guilt for having partially encouraged Manda's perilous pregnancy and benign intervention in the needy lives of his parishioners and neighbors. Part Jon Hassler, part Robert Altman film-and all-around terrific. $100,000 ad/promo; author tour. Agent: Molly Friedrich/Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Read an Excerpt

It was a long walk to the end of the driveway. Margaret Prickett saw the sun glint off Mr. Kelly's U.S. Post Office truck, nearly airborne from the pink and blue balloons tied to his sideview mirrors in cheerful disregard of government regulation. He loved kids, probably because he had none of his own, and kids loved him. When her daughter, Polly, was a little girl, she used to leave wax-paper cups of Pepsi inside the mailbox, the red flag raised so that he wouldn't drive past thirsty. And though by the time he opened the little black oven the cola was flat and fatty with melted wax, in gratitude he would always leave her a rubber band. It was a splendid economy.

Mr. Kelly only got out of his truck when there was something to sign for, yet to Margaret's eyes, he stepped out seemingly empty-handed. She waved to him, a big hearty arm-sweep, as if to say, Great to see you. Got something good? He waved back, a small, unenthusiastic little shake from the wrist that could only mean registered letter.

Sure enough, she spotted it on his clipboard, the little square of serious pale green. She stopped about fifty yards away from him, suddenly overwhelmed by the mid-afternoon heat of the day. Maybe she could just turn around and calmly walk back to the cheese house, lock herself in, and make August deal with Mr. Kelly. Maybe she could just stand there until he disappeared like the mirage he looked to be in the heat, a postal specter no more valid than a canceled stamp.

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