Mountain City

Mountain City

5.0 2
by Gregory Martin
     
 

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By the end of Gregory Martin's unsentimental but affecting memoir, only thirty-one people live in remote Mountain City, Nevada, and none of them are children. The town's abandoned mines are testimony to the cycle of promise, exploitation, abandonment, and attrition that has been the repeated story of the West. Yet the comings and goings at Tremewan's, the general

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Overview

By the end of Gregory Martin's unsentimental but affecting memoir, only thirty-one people live in remote Mountain City, Nevada, and none of them are children. The town's abandoned mines are testimony to the cycle of promise, exploitation, abandonment, and attrition that has been the repeated story of the West. Yet the comings and goings at Tremewan's, the general store Martin's family has run for more than forty years, reveal a remarkably vibrant community that includes salty widows, Native Americans from a nearby reservation, and a number of Martin's deeply idiosyncratic Basque-descended relatives. Martin observes them as they persist in a difficult but rewarding existence and celebrates, with neither pity nor regret, the large and small dramas of their lives and their stubborn attachment to a place that seems likely to disappear in his lifetime.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tucked away in the northern reaches of Nevada, the small boom-and-bust mining town of Mountain City may seem like a ghostly speck on a map, but for Martin it is the quickened heart of the universe. In this gorgeously written, meticulously observed memoir, he probes the lingering old age of the town he romped in as a child and continues to visit. The center of the story, and of the town, is Tremewan's, the general store run by Martin's extended family, which serves the 30-odd residents of Mountain City and others from the outlying areas. Martin stocks shelves, bags groceries and absorbs the history of the town's bust, along with the news and jokes of the people who eke out a living in a place they continue to love. Most of the time, Martin's hometown is warm and homey, but it becomes less agreeable as the winter drags on and folks tire of the routine and limited company. A keen and witty observer, Martin captures the local characters with humor and nuance, never averting his eyes from the small flaws that make this community real. People bicker, the town widows form a tight-knit clique and his Basque uncle Mel, usually the effervescent town wag, hits the Black Velvet one hour before close every night, which sometimes turns him downright mean. Throughout, Martin shows how frailty is woven into the fabric of relations; he maintains an immediacy that highlights the humanity of his subjects and frames the steady press of time that is forcing an era of the American West deep into memory. Agent, Doug Stewart and Curtis Brown Ltd. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
This small book is more than memoir or simply a tale about sense of place in a small northern Nevada town. It is the beautifully rendered story of a dying Western community. In this, his first book , Martin, who now lives in Seattle, portrays life in remote Mountain City, 84 mile from Elko. He centers his telling around Tremewan's store, where his Basque uncle Mel and aunt Lou Basanez, grandma and Gramps Tremewan, and cousin Mitch sell groceries to the town's 33 residents, area miners and ranchers, and the Indians from the nearby Duck Valley Reservation. And a good story it is. He weaves the history of this boomtown with its dwindling present, tells an intelligent and compelling story within a story, and describes the relationships between the people of Mountain City with precision and care. Of his uncle Mel, whose elaborate and wry humor entertains the town, his Martin writes, "He has a gift, an artist's gift, and it has to do with story telling, with creating a certain kind of atmosphere." This can also be said for Mel's nephew, Martin. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Sue Samson, Univ. of Montana Lib., Missoula
Richard Eder
[A] crystalline memoir...Mountain City, part elegy, part defiance of the elegiac, is the winter view from northern Nevada. More than anything, the old need to be touched, one of Blythe's ancients told him. Martin, whose young impatience needles his affection through nostalgia and well past it, touches and gets us to touch.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Snapshots of the dying Nevada mining town of Mountain City, this unwieldy collage slaps together pictures of life there with little concern for how the pieces fit. Mountain City, like all small towns, is only as interesting as the people in it, andwe do find some real gems that the miners left behind. Rosella Chambers, the oldest citizen and proud member of the widows' club, jolts the narrative awake every moment she appears, whether driving her jeep with a broken hip or moving on to the nursing home in Elko after 90-plus years in her hometown. Likewise, Uncle Mel perks up any moments of sagging narration with, for example, his hilarious reaction to Zeno's paradox and his views of the economic genius of prostitution; the man's vibrant presence even outweighs his penchant for sophomoric jokes. Voyne the Wino, Martin's cousin Graham, and a frozen kitten are other notable members of the cast of characters, and the story of Martin's grandfather accidentally killing a neighbor's dog is honestly poignant. Unfortunately, the townspeople never interact much: we see individuals but never get a deep sense of how the town forms a meaningful whole. Furthermore, the promising moments of Martin's prose are marred horribly by his pedantic revelations: the astute reader does not need the author to assist with the mathematical observation that 33 people live in Mountain City, but that this number rises to 34 when he visits. Mercifully, Martin only pulls out the italics to mimic his grandmother during a few short moments of excruciatingly bad voiceover. Even when the emotional reaction is not quite as heavily directed, the banality of some scenes (such as when Grampsand Martinwork outside in the cold and enjoy being together) inhibits any real interest in the lives lived in this dying town. Mountain City deserves a better eulogy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780753156179
Publisher:
ISIS Large Print Books
Publication date:
01/28/2002
Series:
Isis Hardcover Series
Edition description:
Large Type
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.56(h) x 0.77(d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


My uncle Mel is telling a joke.

    "This old Basco from Winnemucca got tired of herding sheep and decides to fly home to the Basque Country. He takes a seat on the plane, settles into it, and then a little before takeoff a stewardess comes over and says, `Excuse me, sir, but this is first class. Your seat's back in row twenty-six.' But that Basco says, `My name is-a Aitor Uberuaga, and I am-a going back to Bilbao. And I like-a this seat right here!'"

    Mel's finger points down and pokes the checkout counter firmly, as if the store were the plane and the counter the seat in first class. Melvin Basañez is short, a little chubby, and has salt-and-pepper hair and a large, slightly hooked Basque nose. His accent now is that of his father, a man who at fourteen came from the Basque Country to northern Nevada to herd sheep. He came without speaking a word of English and in fifty years never learned to read or write. In fifty years he never once returned home.

    "The stewardess doesn't know what to do, so she gets the copilot, who comes out and says to the Basco, `Sir, I'm sorry, but this seat has been assigned to someone else. Your seat's back in row twenty-six. It's a fine seat.' Well that Basco's pretty steamed up by now. When they're off alone with all them sheep, they're not used to getting bossed around. So he says again, `My name is-a Aitor Uberuaga, and I am-a going back to Bilbao. And I like-a this seat right here!'"

    Mel's finger is this time pounding on the counter and his eyes are gleaming.

    "So the stewardessand the copilot go back into the cockpit, and after a minute or two, here comes the captain. The captain leans over and says something to the Basco which the others can't make out, cause the captain's talking to him in confidence. Then, when the captain's done, the Basco nods his head, slaps the captain on the arm, and goes back and takes his seat in row twenty-six.

    "Now this surprises that stewardess and copilot, and they ask the captain, `What'd you say to him that made him change his mind?' And the captain says, `Well, now, you got to know how to handle them Bascos. I told him that this section of the plane wasn't going to Bilbao.'"

    The Frito-Lay man laughs, looking up from the jars of salsas and dips he's been stocking. Gramps and I shake our heads, trying not to grin, and my aunt Lou turns back to the produce case from the aisle where she was standing, listening. And for a short while Tremewan's Store rests suspended in the atmosphere of the joke, the same joke Mel told Jerry, the UPS man, the day before, and Bert, the school bus driver, the day before that. It's eight-thirty in the morning in December, and no customers have yet arrived. The soda pop case hums. Outside the two wide front windows, in the store's reflected light, magpies gather on the opposite shoulder of the highway where earlier Gramps scattered the day-old popcorn. The ignition of the Frito-Lay truck catches, its diesel engine turns over in the cold, and the magpies startle into the predawn dark. Inside, Mel, Gramps, and I haven't moved from our spots by the front counters, and Lou is the only one working at something, but leisurely, picking out the tired grapes and placing them in the pocket of her green apron.

    Mel turns to me, grinning, and says, "Did you catch the new wrinkle?"

    I hadn't, but I was going over the joke again in my head because I knew Mel would ask.

    "I thought her up back in the deep freeze this morning: `Well, now, you got to know how to handle them Bascos.' That line of the captain's, that's a new one. I think it improves the story quite a bit."

    My uncle Mel has a Basco joke for nearly every occasion, and he tells them so often that they become highly refined. The store's five cramped, overcrowded aisles are decorated with evidence of his sense of humor. Mounted on a wall above a rack of bright orange clothes is a camouflage cap with a set of antlers growing out its top: BASCO HUNTING HAT. Hanging from a hook next to a few gardening tools is a plastic bag full of Cheerios: BASCO DONUT SEEDS. On another hook above the bread and pastries, the looped plastic off a six-pack of beer is stapled to the end of a wooden ruler: BASCO FLYSWATTER.

    The Basco never makes out too well in these jokes. In a culture where much of the humor relies on a more familiar race or ethnic group for the butt of its jokes, and in a culture where these jokes are almost always told by someone from outside that group, the Bascos provide their own butts for their own jokes. Case in point: Lou recently won a horse trailer in a 4-H raffle. Lou and Mel don't own any horses and neither has ever been a rancher. Lou just thought she'd enter to support the 4-H. When Lou found out she'd won, the first thing she said was, "Well, I don't have a horse, but I got part of one."

    In response to this, Mel later said, "You know, it's not clear what she meant by that. She could have been talking about either a part of her or all of me."

    Lou smiled and said nothing, which made it more clear.

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