Redemption Mountain: A Novel
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Redemption Mountain: A Novel

4.3 6
by Gerry FitzGerald

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In this emotional debut from Gerry FitzGerald, a NY executive, restless in his success, is sent to W. Virginia and meets a small-town woman and her son who open his eyes to a richer life than he could have imagined.

On the surface, Charlie Burden and Natty Oaks could not be more different: She, the daughter of many generations of rural farmers; he, an


In this emotional debut from Gerry FitzGerald, a NY executive, restless in his success, is sent to W. Virginia and meets a small-town woman and her son who open his eyes to a richer life than he could have imagined.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Against the backdrop of rural West Virginia, Fitzgerald’s accomplished first novel, originally self-published in 2009 as The Pie Man, tracks the improbable relationship between young Natty Oakes, a local “hillbilly” woman with the proverbial heart of gold, and Charlie Burden, a wealthy, college-educated, sophisticated Northeasterner with a strong moral compass. Both Natty and Charlie are dissatisfied with their married lives. Natty’s shotgun marriage, already complicated by her firstborn son’s Down syndrome, is upended when her husband’s hubris and drinking quash his football career. Meanwhile Charlie, an executive with a New York engineering firm, has become uninterested in the superficial country-club life that still grips his socialite wife. When Charlie’s firm sends him to the backwater town of Red Bone, W.Va., he’s captivated by the area’s natural beauty and unpretentious locals, not the least of whom are Natty and her son, called “Pie Man,” with whom Charlie develops a sweet bond. Fitzgerald, an advertising pro, adeptly sells the duo’s unlikely romance, and though the author can be didactic about the environmental effect of the mountaintop coal mining, his compelling take on the behind-the-scenes politics driving the area’s energy industries is eye-opening. Agent: Loretta Barrett, Loretta Barrett Books Inc. (June)
From the Publisher

“FitzGerald has written a feel-good story about a serious environmental issue. . . tempered with love, mettle, heroism, and a propensity to do what is right, this title will appeal to fans of ecological and social concerned fiction.” —Library Journal

“[An] accomplished first novel... FitzGerald, an advertising pro, adeptly sells the duo's unlikely romance, and . . . his compelling take on the behind-the-scenes politics driving the area's energy industries is eye-opening.” —Publishers Weekly

“Richly detailed...A diverse cast of characters adds plenty of color and subplots that enrich the overall theme.” —Booklist

“Redemption Mountain is a first-rate depiction of a state that has suffered at the hands of outsiders, including writers and moviemakers. . .Gerry FitzGerald spent almost 10 years writing a book that anyone familiar with West Virginia will appreciate and enjoy. ” —Huntington News Network

Library Journal
The OntAmex Corporation is building the world's largest nonnuclear power plant in West Virginia, drawn to the site because of the rich vein of low-sulfur coal just below the surface of Redemption Mountain, in McDowell County. When the project manager dies suddenly, Charlie Burden, a burnt-out New York corporate engineer, is sent to replace him. He soon becomes involved in the brewing battle over mountaintop-removal mining and the attempts of a major coal mining company to acquire the rights to Redemption Mountain. The political becomes personal as Charlie develops an interest in Natty Oakes, granddaughter of one of the holdout landowners, and her 12-year-old son, who has Down syndrome. Originally self-published as The Pie Man in 2009, this debut novel has a solid grasp of the political and social implications of this type of mining and approaches the dilemma from the perspective of the environmentalist, distinguishing it from Jonathan Franzen's take in Freedom. VERDICT FitzGerald has written a feel-good story about a serious environmental issue, which may be criticized because it makes solid solutions seem too easy to achieve. But tempered with love, mettle, heroism, and a propensity to do what is right, this title will appeal to fans of ecological and socially concerned fiction.—Thomas Kilpatrick, Martin, TN
Kirkus Reviews
Charlie Burden is literally burdened. His career has devolved into meaningless administration; his marriage is lifeless, his children grown. Could he redeem himself and perhaps find love amid the coal fields and mountains of West Virginia? Originally self-published under the title The Pie Man (2009), Fitzgerald's debut novel pits corporate greed against Appalachian vulnerability as a mining company threatens a rural community. Ready to drop the country-club lifestyle and return to purposeful work, Charlie agrees to salvage the construction management of a coal-burning plant in Red Bone. He hopes to straighten out the problems quickly and then be reassigned to China. With its jaded hero caught up in a morally conflicted universe, agreeing to do one last job for the robber barons (in alliance with corrupt politicians, manipulating permits and ruining the land) before he can do meaningful work again, Fitzgerald's tale has elements of a corporate thriller. Although he wants to help the people of Red Bone, Charlie soon realizes that his bosses are implicated in the environmental crime of mountaintop removal. But his efforts to stop the project are complicated by the community's desperate need for jobs. Soon he has enemies on both sides of the security fence. The thriller, however, lies uneasily with the romance concocted between Charlie and Natty. An abused wife with a drunkard for a husband and a son with Down syndrome, Natty is the perfect damsel in distress. She has a delicate beauty, is impossibly good to everyone and instantly attracts the rugged Charlie. Their relationship is, of course, fraught with perils, which struggle to crescendo into violence through long expositions of the looming environmental catastrophe. Romantically tepid.

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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July 2000
This was her time. The quiet time. Before the sun and the kids and the rest of McDowell County rose to demand her attention. When she could run and be alone and pretend to be someone else, living a different life in a different place.
The young woman slipped quietly out of bed and picked up the small pile of clothes and her running shoes, which she’d set out the night before. She heard her husband before she saw him. Buck’s labored snoring told her he’d probably spent the evening at Moody’s Roadhouse again, which was more routine than not these days. The sliding door that led to the trailer’s narrow hallway rumbled and squeaked, causing a furtive look at her husband to see if he’d awakened. She reminded herself for the hundredth time to oil the track.
The small bathroom had a folding door with its own set of noises as she carefully drew it shut behind her. It was still dark in the trailer at five-thirty, even at the end of July. She turned on the small light over the mirror and slid on the baggy khaki shorts, a sports bra, and a faded black T-shirt she’d pulled randomly from the drawer the night before. It was the Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt that Buck had brought home for their son a few years earlier, the only gift she could remember him giving the boy. A glimmer of hope at the time.
The shirt was cheaply made, a size medium, snug to begin with and after many washings now too small for a twelve-year-old. She pulled it over her sandy-blond hair and leaned on the sink to find the insides of the running shoes with her toes. She never wore socks when she ran. As a child, she rarely wore shoes, and ran on rougher ground than she would this morning.
She brushed her teeth, splashed water on her face, and stared into the mirror. Her hair was getting long, almost to her shoulders now, the curly permanent from four months earlier, which Buck hated, now hanging limp and lifeless. Have to get it cut before school starts in the fall. Maybe she’d just cut it all off like her mother did to her when she was in elementary school, when she was more often than not taken for a boy.
The woman leaned in closer to the mirror and examined, as she always did when she was alone, the faded two-inch scar that ran horizontally just above her left eyebrow. Another, shorter scar started at the edge of her upper lip. Both scars were nearly invisible now, to everyone but her.
Her broad shoulders stretched the T-shirt a little more tightly across her chest than she preferred, while it hung loosely at her small waist. Two pregnancies had enlarged her breasts to at least a noticeable size in relation to her small frame. Her mother complained that she looked bony at a hundred and ten pounds, but she felt good physically and she was finally beginning to feel good about herself as well. At thirty years old, Natty Oakes was finally ready to admit that maybe she wasn’t so plain and ordinary anymore and that some men might even find her attractive now.
So why had Buck been losing interest lately, she wondered. Only once since the beginning of July had Buck visited her side of the bed. The few times that she’d tentatively edged over to initiate activity, she’d been rebuffed. Probably the alcohol. Buck had been drinking more lately. She hoped that was the reason.
In the small kitchenette, she turned on the gas burner and shoveled two heaping teaspoons of instant coffee into a large steel mug. Bending low to look out the small window over the sink, she could see that the stool at the corner of the trailer across the gravel road was unoccupied. She glanced at her watch. Still a few minutes early.
She went back up the short hallway to the smaller bedroom. The room was cramped enough without the mess of clothes, books, toys, stuffed animals, and the Nintendo game, with its wires and controls and various game cartridges spread between the beds. Damn, this room sucks. It was too small for one child, let alone two.
She looked down at her son, lying on his back, wearing only Jockey shorts that were too tight. He was snoring lightly, his mouth slightly open. She could see his irregularly spaced teeth—beyond the scope of orthodontics, she had been told, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t afford it, and the Pie Man was never going to be popular for his looks anyway.
In the other bed, a small girl lay on her side with her thumb in her mouth. Natty pulled the sheet up over her, gently extracted her thumb, and brushed away the strands of matted blond hair covering her face. She sat on the edge of the bed and ran her hand down her daughter’s pencil-thin arm. Cat was a tiny girl, small for her age—scrawny, some would say—but with boundless energy and a streak of stubbornness that Natty made allowances for because she knew where it came from.
Natty thought about Cat’s seventh birthday coming up in September. Seven. The same age Natty was when she first came to McDowell County, West Virginia, with her mother and her sister Annie. It was 1977, the year her father was killed in the mine up in Marion County. The year they came to live with her grandparents at the farm on Redemption Mountain because they had nowhere else to go. The year the joy went out of her mother’s eyes.
Natty could still feel the icy chill of the rainy day in November, when they stood all morning in front of the tall wooden doors, surrounded by the miners’ wives who’d quietly drifted in to stand vigil, like they had for a hundred years. And then the screech of the elevator cables—a sound she could never erase from her mind—bringing her father up from two thousand feet below. She walked back up the hill in the rain to their empty house, holding Annie’s small hand, following their sobbing mother, who was never the same after that day.
Sarah DeWitt wasn’t from West Virginia. She didn’t know coal mining and couldn’t understand how a man could go off to work in the morning and be brought up the mine shaft in the afternoon, lifeless, covered with black dust, and wrapped in a dirty blanket. She’d listened to some of the old miners’ wives telling stories about the day in November nine years earlier, when the earth rumbled and the Consol Mine No. 9 in Farmington, just a few miles up the road, exploded in an underground firestorm, killing seventy-eight men, burning so hot that the mine was sealed off, with no attempt at rescue. Sarah had passed by the monument many times and always assumed that was how men died in coal mines, in big catastrophes that happened only in the past because mines were safer now, Tom had told her, and technology was better. But her husband died the way most men die in the mines, one at a time, miles down a dark tunnel, the lone victim of a relatively minor occurrence in the business of coal mining, leaving Sarah alone with her two girls in a strange land.
Natty stroked her daughter’s moist forehead and heard the distant whistling sound of the blizzard winds piling the snow against the windows of the farmhouse. She looked down and saw three-year-old Annie sweating and delirious from the fever. It all would have been different if Annie had lived. Mama had talked about moving back to Wisconsin, where she grew up, to a city called Waukesha, with parks and streets with big houses and green lawns and modern schools. Natty could hear shouts. Natty! Natty! They were yelling at her because it was her fault for letting Annie play outside too long in the stream, breaking the thin ice with their shoes and getting their feet wet. She knew Annie’s pneumonia was her fault, with the road down the mountain impassable with the snow, but why were they yelling at her now?
Natty, get that fucking pot! Nat, you out there?” Buck was yelling from the bedroom over the whistling teakettle. Dammit! How long had he been yelling?
She bounded out of the children’s room. “I got it, Buck. Sorry, honey. Go back to sleep,” she called out, as she yanked the kettle from the burner. She poured the boiling water over the coffee crystals, watching the dark steaming liquid swirl and bubble as she thought about her daydream of Annie. It surprised her. She rarely thought about Annie anymore, only when they went up to the farm. The nightmares had stopped years ago. She reminded herself that they needed to visit her mother soon.
Natty added an ice cube to the coffee, and a straw that hinged in the middle, and carried it outside. She stood on the small wooden deck that was their front porch and breathed in the ever-present scent of pine in the air. The sun hadn’t yet made it over the Alleghenies, but it was light enough to see that nothing was stirring in Oakes Hollow.
She looked up the hill toward the big house, where Buck’s parents, Frank and Rose lived. The house was surrounded on three sides by a wide covered porch from which Big Frank would look down over his domain, where his three sons lived with their sorry-ass wives and too many kids to bother with all their names. Under the porch, one of the old coonhounds lifted his nose to Natty and barked twice before lying back down.
She had to giggle, looking over at Ransom and Sally’s house, at the overturned plastic riding toys, rusted bicycles, a broken swing set, a collapsed kiddie pool, and probably a hundred other toys that had been scattered about all summer. It wouldn’t look much different inside. Housekeeping would never be one of Sally’s talents.
Natty wondered if Ransom was still working at the cement job he talked about bringing Buck onto. She’d begun to notice his truck parked in front of The Spur, the dingy little gin mill in Old Red Bone, most afternoons when she drove through town. She’d seen Buck’s truck up there on occasion, but she knew if Buck was drinking in the afternoon, he preferred the pool room at Moody’s Roadhouse.
A light went on in the trailer directly across the road. That would be Amos. With his dead left side, it would take him a while to pull his pants and shirt on. He was careful not to awaken Yancy or especially Charlotte, who was a bear when the old man woke her up in the morning, and heaven forbid if he woke the girls!
Natty felt sorry for Charlotte, because she was fat and dim-witted and mostly disagreeable, but she was still too young to be trapped in the mountains with two babies and an out-of-work miner for a husband. They had a lot in common. But Natty had never warmed up to her sister-in-law, from the first week that Charlotte and Yancy moved into the trailer across from theirs and Charlotte let her know that little mongoloid boy’d be better off in a home somewhere.
They’d had it out then. But it wasn’t just about Pie. Later, it was about her grandfather Amos whom, after his stroke, Charlotte considered a burden. Beyond providing a small sleeping space and a place at the supper table, she largely ignored him. That wasn’t fair, Natty thought. He deserved better.
She heard the old man shuffle slowly through the gravel and watched him feel his way around the corner of the trailer. He couldn’t turn his head, and his eyesight was failing, so he wouldn’t see her until she stood right in front of him. She would wait until he was ready for her.
Amos Ritter was a hard, wiry little man with short-cropped white hair and a perpetual stubble of white whiskers. Up close, you could look into the deep creases in his forehead and the pockmarks of soft skin under his eyes and see the tiny black gritty remnants of more than four decades spent underground in the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky. His gnarled left hand was missing the last two fingers, taken off so long ago he could barely recall the mine he’d lost them to.
Every morning when Natty went out to run, Amos was sitting on his little stool, waiting for her. As she brought his coffee over to him, his mouth twitched into an unsteady smile, the best he could do. He slowly raised his right arm in a kind of half wave, with his fingers pointed at her, and blinked his small, cloudy eyes in an effort to tell her that, yes, he was still alive and that she was someone special to him.
“Morning, Amos.” Natty squatted down and set the mug on his knee until he could get his arthritic fingers through the handle. He’d spill some getting the straw to his mouth. She stood and kissed him on the forehead. “Sun’s going to be hot today, Amos; you’ll need your hat,” she said as she started down the hill to begin her run. She turned around briefly, walking backward, and smiled. “I’ll fix you an egg when I get back.” Amos blinked and squinted and twitched his mouth. He bent his head forward slightly in a slow nod and watched until she disappeared down the road and around the corner of the woods.
If Amos could speak, he would tell Natty how much he loved her. He’d thank her for being his friend and making him feel like he mattered. For helping him forget the pain for a while. And for being such a good mother in a hard situation. He would tell her how beautiful she was and that if he were a few years younger, he’d beat the living piss out of her worthless husband until he straightened up or, even better, just went off for good. And if Buck ever hit her again, he’d take a pickax handle to his head so bad you wouldn’t know which side his face was on.
But Amos knew he’d never say any of these things to Natty or do anything to Buck. All he could do now was enjoy the sunrise and the sunsets, the smell of the woods, and his visits from Natty.

Copyright © 2013 by Gerry FitzGerald

Meet the Author

Gerry FitzGerald has been in advertising for nearly thirty years and owns an advertising agency in Springfield, Massachusetts. He holds a master's in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts with his wife, Robin, and has two children in college.
Gerry FitzGerald, the author of Redemption Mountain, has been in advertising for nearly thirty years and owns an advertising agency in Springfield, Massachusetts. He holds a master’s in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts with his wife, Robin, and has two children in college.

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Redemption Mountain: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book! The best novel I've read in years. My wife got a preview copy from someone and loved the book. She told me I had to read it which I really didn't want to do because I thought it was a romance. Well it certainly isn't a romance novel! Yes, there is a man from New York, and a woman from West Virginia who are the main characters but there is a lot more to this story than their relationship. There's corporate intrigue (which I especially enjoyed), colorful utility execs, lawyers, and wonderful twelve year old boy with Downs Syndrome, name the Pie Man. A lot happens in this book and you won't want to put it down, and I guarantee that when you get to the final third of the book or so, you'll be staying up all night to finish it! This book made me laugh out loud at times at some of the great dialog, and I have to admit it brought tears to my eyes more than once, including one chapter near the end of the book with a shocking event that made me cry like a baby. If you are looking for one book to bring to the beach this summer, this is the one. You won't be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. You can really relate to the main character, Natty. She tries to be the best mom and wife she can be under less than ideal circumstances. And when tempted by a new love who appears with the promise to be much better in every way than her deadbeat husband, you feel as torn as she does about what she should do. Embrace a new, more glamorous and exciting life? Continue the much simpler, predictable life, but one in which she feels unappreciated and downtrodden? Parallel this to what the energy industry did when in swooped into the small West Virginia community. It promised to bring prosperity and a new life, but there was a dark side as well. And another thing was for certain -- life would not continue on as it once did. Not much different than what's happening now with the promises and potential demise Marcellus shale gas is bringing to this same region of the country. Timely. Interesting. Fast moving. I'd like to read more by this author.
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. Lots of factual info on coal mining. I couldn't wait to get home to continuing reading it. I was bummed about the ending however. Maybe he can write a sequel???? Hope and Pray he does. Great work. Please read this book,, you won't be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gerry Fitzgerald’s first novel is a breathtakingly beautiful tale of love, loss, and redemption. Turning the last page, I had that ache that comes when I have to close the door on characters I had come to care about and a world I wasn’t ready to leave. Take a trip to Redemption Mountain. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the journey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was well written and kept my interest throughout. Look forward to more writing from this author.
ArizonaFlame More than 1 year ago
Redemption Mountain by Gerry Fitzgerald. Essentially this story is about a man and a woman, each married, bored and unhappy.  Charlies wife is more in love with the money he makes than she is with him.  Charlies is sent from New York to West Virginia by the company he works for.  He ends up meeting Natty. A woman whose first child has Down's Syndrome requiring much of her care and attention. She also has a husband who spends most of his time drinking and away from home.   Among the various additional plots, these two find themselves in love with each other and both struggling with new found love and burned out marriages. In-spite of all of the additional plots within this story, I was bored.  It simply did not get my interest. I found both the writing and the storyline dull.  Renee Robinson