Like another reviewer, my worthy reading experience with Art of Fiction led me to read Gardner's earlier works. In some places he fulfills his own advice by writing NOT in an absolute vacuum of "novel rules" but by writing a piece to be judged by its own structure and prose inventions. Nickel Mountain achieves his assertion that "art has no universal rules because each true artist melts down and reforges all past aesthetic law." Of course, the artist must live up to his promises. In Nickel Mountain, Gardner delivers.
Invective against certain publishers or readers aside, I will deem this book one of the best I've read in a while. Gardner had a knack for plucking scraps of sentiment and characterization and giving them the reins over the story. The characters in Nickel Mountain are given the sort of emotion and are treated with the same intense, meticulous speculation that Steinbeck lent to his brilliant characters; this is the lodestar of a galaxy of seemingly muddled but, when examined pensively and closely, heterogeneous and multihued feelings; Gardner put a multifaceted heart into this novel. Revelations of aspects in the characters of Henry and Callie, and the myriad supporting characters in New Carthage, from Mr. Kuzitski, moribund from page one, to George Loomis, amount to a breathtaking and touching expression of human interaction. Too stunning to be found only on a rack of unwanted, weathered paperbacks in a murky corner of a public library, where I found my copy.