Gardiner, John Rolfe
GARDINER, John Rolfe
PERSONAL: Married; children: one daughter.
ADDRESSES: Home—21103 Unison Rd., Middleburg, VA 20117. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Counterpoint Press, 387 Park Ave. S, New York, NY 10016.
AWARDS, HONORS: Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Writer's Award; O. Henry Award.
Great Dream from Heaven (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.
Unknown Soldiers (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.
Going on Like This (short sotries), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
In the Heart of the Whole World (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
The Incubator Ballroom (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Somewhere in France (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Doublestitch (novel), Counterpoint (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of fiction to the New Yorker, Washingtonian, and Sandlapper.
SIDELIGHTS: John Rolfe Gardiner is a celebrated short-story writer and winner of the O. Henry Award. Gardiner has also written five full-length novels in addition to two short-story collections that have been published. He lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter.
Gardiner's first publication, Great Dream from Heaven, follows the story of Eugene Daniels, a labor organizer in the coal mines of late-nineteenth-century Tennessee. Daniels arrives in the coal town, expecting to get a job in the mines and organize a labor union from within. However, success seems unattainable as he learns that every aspect of life in the small town is controlled by a political-industrial machine that does not welcome him. A critic from Publishers Weekly noted, "The novel builds to a colorful and dramatic climax" yet "it takes an uncommonly long time in getting to that climax." Philip F. Mooney from Library Journal found Gardiner's style "somewhat jumpy and disconcerting," but added, "This pessimistic allegory for our times shows promise." Roger Sale from Sewanee Review found Gardiner's writing "casual, loose, unbrooding," and wrote, "Gardiner is a writer with a lot on his mind and a flexible idiom well in control and a sense of the kind of novel he wants to write." John Yohalem from the New York Times Book Review praised Great Dream from Heaven, "He has a way of brusquely intruding into the fabric of the novel that oddly enough does not disrupt the text but is of a piece with it. . . . He has written a worthwhile book."
For his next novel, Unknown Soldiers, Gardiner set the action in a small Virginia town not far from Washington, D.C., during World War II. Panimer, a rebellious boy, finds himself taking action against the town's show of patriotism. He destroys paper battleships constructed to symbolize the contribution of the school to the War Bond Drive, joy-rides with stolen gas coupons, and sets off the air-raid siren. Panimer soon learns the truth about the secret contents of a warehouse that leads him "into an obsession with forcing [the town] to acknowledge its own hypocrisy." Susan Wood of the Washington Post Book World commended the author, "Gardiner has written a thoroughly engrossing, tightly plotted story. . . . The novel has suspense, an antihero and a bevy of eccentric supporting roles." A reviewer from Publishers Weekly agreed, "The author clearly has intimate knowledge of his locale and its colorful people." F. Whitney Jones from Library Journal also enjoyed Unknown Soldiers, "The book succeeds . . . in giving an honest and touching portrait of small-town life in the South during World War II."
Gardiner's first short-story collection is Going on Like This. The book consists of sixteen stories centered in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Edith Milton from the New York Times Book Review noted, "The stories . . . are arranged so that their ambiance moves outward in a somewhat Dantesque fashion through Mr. Gardiner's fictional landscape, of which the central ring is . . . the Washington Beltway." Newsweek's David Lehman discussed Gardiner's characters: "His rural and suburban Virginia is peopled by eccentrics who seem at once foreign and disturbingly familiar." Lawrence Wilson in the Los Angeles Times Book Review felt that Gardiner's strength is in "rendering youth." Wilson continued, "If stories can approach perfection, these do—plain-spoken, spare as the words to a great song."
Gardiner's next book, In the Heart of the Whole World, includes Ray Sykes as a history teacher at a northern Virginian high school. He becomes involved with a student and fathers a child; his marriage proposal and wish to be the child's father is refused so he obsesses over his daughter, Sonia, from a distance. Sykes follows her throughout high school, is disappointed that his child is a mediocre student, and horrified when he discovers she is the ringleader of a sex circle for teenagers. Michelle Lodge of Library Journal wrote, "In exposing one man's demons, Gardiner creates a dreaminess, and a strangeness, heightened by vivid contrasts. . . . This is an abundant work that you'll want to read more than once." A Publishers Weekly critic found In the Heart of the Whole World to be "elegantly written . . . funny [and] poignant."
The Incubator Ballroom is Gardiner's second collection of short stories. It consists of a novella and four stories that take place in the northern counties of Virginia. Reviewing the book for Studies in Short Fiction, Christopher Metress explained, "Each story concerns itself in some way with men and women seeking the security of place, for both themselves and their families." The title novella is about a father who moves his family from upper-class Roanoke to a more simple, rural life on a farm on the Potomac river. The two eldest daughters move back to Roanoke, the parents separate, and the youngest daughter, Grace, takes over the farm. Eventually, the farm's 300 acres dwindle to seven but her land becomes "a botanical riot," a "home to whatever animal, native or immigrant, should stay and survive." Metress summarized that Grace, "found the sanctuary so many of Gardiner's men and women desire." A reviewer from Publishers Weekly called Gardiner "a wonderfully distinctive writer whose funny stories are animated by a healing intelligent compassion for characters groping for redemption in a heartless world."
Gardiner used his own grandfather's wartime correspondence as the basis for his next novel, Somewhere in France, which uses letters to move the story along. The book is divided between members of the Lloyd family; the father, William, is in France working as a doctor for the army during World War I and his wife, mother, and three children are living together outside the city to avoid the typhoid fever epidemic. The family soon begins to recognize William's obsession with his assistant, Jeanne, a French nurse whose brilliant research intrigues William from the beginning. Throughout the book tensions grow between William and his antiwar son, his wife and mother, and, upon his return home, him and his wife. Lloyd cannot settle back home and eventually returns to France and Jeanne. A Publishers Weekly critic noted, "Gardiner uses a disarmingly plain style with which to tell a strange and complex story."
Gardiner's 2003 novel, Doublestitch, focuses on identical twins, Rebecca and Linda Carey, who grow up in an orphanage during the 1920s. They anxiously await their release from the orphanage, only to find a world much more complex and dangerous than they could have imagined. Rebecca goes to China while Linda treks across the country; both find themselves in dire straits as World War II approaches and neither one's survival is taken for granted.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, fall, 1983, review of Going on LikeThis, p. 510.
Booklist, September 1, 1999, June Hathaway-Vigor, review of Somewhere in France, p. 67.
Library Journal, March 1, 1975, Philip F. Mooney, review of Great Dream from Heaven, p. 501; August, 1977, F. Whitney Jones, review of Unknown Soldiers, p. 1677; October 1, 1988, Michelle Lodge, review of In the Heart of the Whole World, p. 101; March 15, 1991, Kimberly G. Allen, review of The Incubator Ballroom, p. 114; September 1, 1999, Margaret A. Smith, review of Somewhere in France, p.232.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 22, 1983, Lawrence Wilson, review of Going on Like This, p. 16.
Newsweek, April 25, 1983, David Lehman, review of Going on Like This, pp. 85-86.
New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1974, John Yohalem, review of Great Dream from Heaven, p.26; August 14, 1983, Edith Milton, review of Going on Like This, p. 12; October 2, 1988, Susan Kenney, review of In the Heart of the Whole World, p. 28; May 19, 1991, Robert Olm-stead, review of The Incubator Ballroom: A Novella and Four Stories, p. 20; October 24, 1999, Miranda Seymour, review of Somewhere in France.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1974, review of Great Dream from Heaven, p. 52; April 11, 1977, review of Unknown Soldiers, p. 74; August 26, 1988, review of In the Heart of the Whole World, p. 78; February 15, 1991, review of The Incubator Ballroom, p. 75; August 16, 1999, review of Somewhere in France, p. 64.
Sewanee Review, January, 1975, Roger Sale, review of Great Dream from Heaven, pp. 212-217.
Studies in Short Fiction, fall, 1993, review of TheIncubator Ballroom, p. 607.
Washington Post Book World, July 24, 1977, Susan Wood, review of Unknown Soldiers, p. K3; September 19, 1999, Audrey C. Foote, review of Somewhere in France, p. 4.
Perseus Books Group,http://www.perseusbooksgroup.com/ (September 23, 2003), description of Doublestitch and biography of John Rolfe Gardiner.*