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The Wooden Nickel
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About the Author

William Carpenter teaches literature at the College of the Atlantic in Maine. His first novel, A Keeper of Sheep, was published by Milkweed Editions in the mid-90s to critical acclaim. He has also written three volumes of poetry which won numerous awards here and abroad.

Reviews

The second novel from the author of The Keeper of Sheep tells the tale of Lucky Lunt, a third-generation Maine lobsterman trying to be true to his roots in a world that is hurtling into the future. Recent heart surgery has left Lucky deeply in debt, struggling with the physical tasks of his job, and deprived of life's little pleasures: alcohol, tobacco, and meat products. His wife is selling crafts to summer people, his daughter is getting ready to leave for college, and his son has turned his back on the family trade in favor of urchin diving. When Lucky takes on a female deckhand, his life drastically changes. Carpenter's prose matches the harsh, gritty life of the seaman. The language is strong, and the gruff characters are more likely to accept the ancient laws of the sea than the laws of humans. Lucky's irregularly beating heart has some gold in it, but readers will find getting through to it a challenge. This realistic portrayal of a harsh life in a closed society holds rewards for those willing to look below the surface. For larger fiction collections. Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Move over, Richard Russo, there's an impressive new chronicler of the lives of hard-edged working men on the scene. The protagonist of Carpenter's second novel (after A Keeper of Sheep) is a Maine lobsterman, Lucas "Lucky" Lunt. His name is ironic, because the only luck Lucas has is bad. At 46, he's already had two angioplasties that have left him with a fluttering ticker, deeply in debt and unable to haul the huge lobster traps alone. After 20 years of docility, his wife, Sarah, is suddenly asserting her independence, his son is a delinquent skinhead, and his daughter is heading for college. He hires Ronette, the recently separated wife of the local lobster buyer, to be his sternman, and not surprisingly, the two fall into each other's arms. When Ronette becomes pregnant, Sarah leaves, and the downward spiral continues when Lucas gets into a territorial dispute with other lobstermen and wings one of them in an exchange of gunfire. He refuses to promise future good behavior and loses his fishing license. Sarah seizes the family home that has been Lunt property for three generations, and he's reduced to living with Ronette in a dilapidated trailer. He then begins fishing illegally for a renegade buyer and encounters a rogue whale that has more in common with him than he realizes; the climax involves fast and furious action. Carpenter's prose is strong and sinewy: the Maine fishing community is evoked with pungent realism, and the characters are memorable in their attempts to eke out an existence in a harsh environment. This is a fully engaging story that creates a powerful portrait of a man struggling to make sense of a world that seems rigged against him. Agent, Alison Bond. Regional tour. (Mar. 26) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"Funny and profane. . . . This is a modern story, with [a] painful lesson about what happens to rugged traditionalists, like Lucky, who try to fight change. Melville would have approved of this novel's oily, splintered texture and boisterous dialogue, the best of which is too salty to quote here."--Sally Eckhoff, New York Times Book Review
"Powerful writing. . . . The Wooden Nickel will be the punchiest, raunchiest Maine coast lobstering novel you'll encounter in a long while."--Michael Kenney, Boston Globe
"Uncompromising.... The author, who is also an award-winning poet with three published collections, twines image and idea with impressive skill.... Carpenter draws a richly detailed portrait of a coastal Maine community. His descriptive writing, especially when Lucky takes the Wooden Nickel out on its rounds, is piquant and evocative, and there's always added pleasure in reading a novel when you learn the particulars of a trade. Carpenter... also has a wonderful ear for the language of his reagion.... The Wooden Nickel earns some comparisons to Annie Proulx's The Shipping News."--Porter Shreve, Chicago Tribune
"Combining the artistic precision of poetry and the narrative power of an epic, William Carpenter has written a classic American novel about one lobsterman's furious battle against the laws of land and sea. . . . The white-hot center of this literary tour de force is Lucky Lunt. . . . Like Captain Ahab, Lucky Lunt soon renounces his family, his community and the laws of nature to catastrophic results. Like Melville, Carpenter has drawn the searing image of a man and a way of life with no place left to go."--John Robinson, Maine Sunday Telegram
"Under the pen of a skilled writer like William Carpenter, Lucky leaps to life and you buy his story-hook, line, and sinker. . . . A funny, funny book. . . . A good storyteller-and Carpenter is a good one for sure-can lead readers on an incredible adventure where everything that happens is breathtaking and surprising yet, in retrospect, absolutely inevitable. In Lucky's life, one thing leads to another, and hard choices are forced unceasingly upon our unlucky but resilient hero. . . . Carpenter's writing is vivid and lively, filled with earthy dialogue and hilarious descriptions. He creates characters of memorable dimension and puts them into situations that spring to life on the page."--Helen Parramore, Tampa Tribune & Times
"[Carpenter's] instrument is the salty, sullen, irrepressibly profane voice of its protagonist Lucas 'Lucky' Lunt. . . . Mr. Carpenter keeps a nice balance between the consistent focus on Lucky's abrasive sensibility and the novel's busy plot. . . . There are delights aplenty distributed among Lucky's rude pronouncements. . . . There's a subtle patter of imagery working throughout as well. Mr. Carpenter finds fresh and precise metaphors perfectly suited to Lucky's limited though by no means simple thought processes. . . . The novel is a hoot with a heart, a raucous portrayal of working-class life in extremis and of a possibly dying way of life that isn't going anywhere without one hell of a struggle. Mr. Carpenter's Lucky Lunt is an irresistibly vivid character-a more than worthy companion to the salt-of-the-earth types who've been appearing in the recent northeastern regional fiction of . . . Carolyn Chute, Maine's Richard Russo, and New Hampshire's Ernest Hebert. You might not want to invite Lucky to your next book club meeting. But a few bracing, expletive-filled hours aboard The Wooden Nickel with him just might do your own heart a modest world of good."--Bruce Allen, Washington Times
"Archie Bunker would look like Ralph Nader alongside the robust, profane life force who easily dominates this zesty, entertaining novel by the Maine poet and author.... Lucky is a terrific creation... and the unquenchable source of malevolently funny one-liners that can drop you dead in your tracks.... An insouciant antipastoral as bracing and bitter as a January nor'easter. Don't miss it."--Kirkus Reviews
"Carpenter's prose matches the harsh, gritty life of the seaman. The language is strong, and the gruff characters are more likely to accept the ancient laws of the sea than the laws of humans. . . . This realistic portrayal of a harsh life in a closed society holds rewards for those willing to look below the surface."--Debbie Bogenschutz, Library Journal
"Move over Richard Russo, there's an impressive new chronicler of the lives of hard-edged working men on the scene.... Carpenter's prose is strong and sinewy: the Maine fishing community is evoked with pungent realism, and the characters are memorable in their attempts to eke out an existence in a harsh environment. This is a fully engaging story that creates a powerful portrait of a man struggling to make sense of a world that seems rigged against him."--Publishers Weekly
"William Carpenter has a great ear for the talk of Maine lobstermen and a great eye for the things (boats, motors, guns, lobster) with which they live. Lucky Lunt, the hero of The Wooden Nickel, is superbly competent with these things but otherwise he's wired for trouble. The story rips along full-throttle. Just one of the many pleasures is that in spite of Lucky's bad moves you're still rooting for the guy."--John Casey, author of Spartina and The Half-Life of Happiness
"To author the human story on the page, fearlessness is a requirement. Because William Carpenter is ferociously, magnificently, and absolutely fearless, the people who walk the pages of this book and The Wooden Nickel, which rides the truly living sea in this book... they live. I will never forget Lucky Lunt and his loved ones."--Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine, and Snow Man
"In Lucas 'Lucky' Lunt, William Carpenter . . . has concocted a character so real, you can smell the chum wafting off his oilskins. And as crusty and unreconstructed as he is, you have to love him. . . . Characters of Lucky's sort existed long before Melville's narrator first told us to call him Ishmael. Nothing would be easier, then, than to render this story as a bobbing buoy line of clich s. But Carpenter succeeds grandly in sidestepping stereotype, using an inimitable voice to spit a tale suffused with crabby humor, wry social critique and, yes, pathos. Much of his success lies in how he gets so many things right. . . . It's obvious. . . that the author has done his homework. . . . More rewarding than these slice-of-life details is Carpenter's pitch-perfect ear for idiomatic speech patterns and smutty turns of phrase. . . . A character like Lucky has a special resonance these days. The Wooden Nickel seems to be suggesting that, despite his perseverance, Lucky and men like him may soon be as endangered as their over-fished catch. Carpenter gets a lot of things right; on this point, let's hope he's wrong."--Mike Miliard, Boston Phoenix

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