Mosher, Howard Frank 1943-
Mosher, Howard Frank 1943-
Born 1943, in NY; married, 1964; wife's name Phillis (a teacher); children: Jake, Susannah. Education: Syracuse University, received degree, 1964; postgraduate study at University of Vermont and University of California.
Writer. Also worked as teacher and in an anti-poverty program.
Literature prize from American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1981; fiction fellowship from National Endowment for the Arts; Guggenheim fellow; New England Book Award, 1991; Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Vermont Arts Council, 2005.
Disappearances, Viking (New York, NY), 1977, Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.
Marie Blythe, Viking (New York, NY), 1983, University of Vermont Press (Burlington, VT), 2004.
A Stranger in the Kingdom, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1989.
Northern Borders, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.
The Fall of the Year, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
The True Account, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Waiting for Teddy Williams, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
On Kingdom Mountain, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
Where the Rivers Flow North (short stories and novella), Viking (New York, NY), 1978, University of Vermont Press (Burlington, VT), 2004.
(Editor) Songs of the North: A Sigurd Olson Reader, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
North Country: A Personal Journey through the Borderland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Granite and Cedar: The People and the Land of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, with photographs by John M. Miller, Thistle Hill Publications (North Pomfret, VT), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including Cimarron Review, Epoch, and Four Quarters.
A Stranger in the Kingdom was filmed in 1997, staring Martin Sheen and Ernie Hudson; Where the Rivers Flow North was made into a film starring Tantoo Cardinal, Rip Torn, and Michael J. Fox; Disappearances was made into a film staring Kris Kristofferson and Billy Connolly; all directed by Jay Craven.
Howard Frank Mosher's fiction has earned acclaim for its vivid historical portraits of Northern New England residents. His work is set in fictional Kingdom County, Vermont, a rural area of rough, imposing terrain. A resident of Vermont himself, Mosher draws on the challenging lifestyles of his neighbors and on the wealth of storytelling tradition in the New England state. "I love the people [of Vermont]," Mosher told Peter Canby in Country Journal. "They're terrifically independent-minded…. They're great storytellers, too. They have a wonderful sense of where to begin a story and where to end it." Reviewers see a similar narrative strength in Mosher's fiction. "There is a theatrical quality to much of Mosher's work," wrote Canby, "and his protagonists, though they are always sharply drawn, are often exaggerated, in the tradition of the tall tale."
Mosher's discovery of this fruitful regional material was slow in coming. After graduating from college, he and his wife moved to Vermont, where Mosher struggled for several years as a writer. He taught school and wrote in his spare time but found little success beyond several story publications. Mosher then contemplated a career as a university professor, enrolling in graduate programs in both Vermont and California in hopes of achieving this goal. After he and his wife relocated to California, Mosher even considered giving up writing altogether, but he continued to work on his fiction. His literary fortune changed when he returned to New England in the early 1970s. He and his wife eventually found a home in Irasburg, Vermont, and Mosher settled into the sights, sounds, smells, and history of the area. This led to his creation of Kingdom County and the writing of his first novel.
Disappearances is a Depression-era novel about a farmer who attempts to raise funds by smuggling whiskey from across the Canadian border. The farmer, Quebec Bill Bonhomme, is accompanied on his harrowing bootlegging expedition by several others, including his fourteen-year-old son, Wild Bill. Wild Bill, in contrast to his name, is a somewhat unadventurous youth who—in recalling the expedition forty years afterwards—serves as the novel's narrator. Quebec Bill's recollections of his ancestors expand and flesh out the narrative as the party makes its way into Canada and back. But the journey itself holds considerable adventure: the Bonhommes steal whiskey from rival smugglers and are continually tracked by a mysterious old man who survives repeated stabbings, shootings, and mutilations. In addition, the bootleggers uncover evidence of a saber-toothed tiger's presence. In the end, the journey is ill-fated. In Wild Bill's estimation, however, the quest for whiskey was secondary to the family history that the expedition both recalled and created.
Upon publication in 1977, Disappearances won praise as a unique and compelling work. Harper's reviewer Frances Taliaferro proclaimed Mosher's debut novel "vigorous and peculiar." Washington Post critic William Logan also affirmed the novel's success, praising Mosher's "care and cleverness in form" and his ability to mix humor with moving drama. "In its comedy, its dark fantasy and its outrageous characters," Logan declared, "Disappearances is delightful."
Mosher next published Where the Rivers Flow North, a collection of short stories and a novella. Like Disappearances, Where the Rivers Flow North is peopled with hearty characters who have managed to survive in the arduous north country of Kingdom County, Vermont. Among the memorable narratives contained in the volume are "Burl," in which a woman recalls her life of hardship and abuse; "Kingdom County Come," where a man contemplates suicide; and the title novella, in which an elderly ex-logger struggles to maintain his land with the help of his Indian housekeeper.
Where the Rivers Flow North won Mosher further acclaim as a unique and accomplished writer. "Mosher's second book advances past the limits of his first good novel," affirmed New Times reviewer Geoffrey Wolff. The critic was particularly impressed with the collection's title tale, which he described as "lovingly crafted, economical with scenes but lavish with a sense of lives being lived." Norbert Blei, in his review for Tribune Books, lauded Mosher's "consistency and sureness of storytelling." Blei added that Mosher "recognizes the duty and artistry of true storytelling: to create, record, and pass on evenly, in whatever direction the river flows." And Bruce Allen, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, praised Mosher's collection and proclaimed that the title story "is one of the best short novels of our time, a brilliantly detailed chunk of Americana."
In 1983 Mosher published Marie Blythe, a novel about a French Canadian girl's difficult experiences after her family moves to Vermont at the turn of the century. Soon after settling in the state, Marie loses both parents; her father dies in an accident and her mother succumbs to tuberculosis. Marie then lives briefly with gypsies before finding work in the home of a kindly industrialist. But when she is only fourteen years old she is raped and impregnated by the industrialist's loathsome son, Abie. A miscarriage ensues, and Marie, who has grown increasingly strong as a result of her grueling experiences, once again sets out into the world. She eventually becomes the village schoolteacher and a community leader, opposing Abie's plans to exploit the area. Marie Blythe did not win the same praise accorded Mosher's previous books. Allen, for instance, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that the novel was mere "formula fiction," and he found it of interest only "because it's always worth observing what a really first-rate writer is attempting." Pat Goodfellow, writing for Library Journal, found much to praise in the novel, however, stating that "the characterization is varied, strong, and sure; the narrative drive never falters."
A Stranger in the Kingdom, Mosher's next book, concerns a tragic Kingdom County murder and is narrated by thirteen-year-old James Kinneson. The incident begins when James's cousin advertises in Montreal for a woman to share his life and land. The cousin is soon successful, but the situation is complicated when a black minister arrives from Canada and establishes himself in the community. These two incidents—the bride solicitation and the minister's arrival—eventually result in the killing, and the subsequent trial severely divides the rural community. With A Stranger in the Kingdom, Mosher once again drew favorable reviews. The book also earned a number of comparisons to Harper Lee's classic novel of misguided justice, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee Smith, writing in New York Times Book Review, described Mosher's book as "that rarity, both a ‘good read’ and a fine novel." A Stranger in the Kingdom, Smith commented, "is a real mystery in the best and truest sense." New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt was more impressed With the novel's sense of place. Mosher, Lehmann-Haupt stated, "has made something appealing out of a little-known corner of America." Grace Edwards-Yearwood, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, hailed A Stranger in the Kingdom as "a fine novel," characterizing the book as "a story of power and suspense that was a pleasure to read."
The title of Northern Borders shows it to be a novel in Mosher's characteristic vein. The 1994 work tells the story of wide-eyed Austen Kittridge III, who, in 1948, at the age of six, goes to live on his grandparents' farm in Lost Nation Hollow after his mother's death. Grandmother and Grandfather are both strong, independent-minded characters; while they have remained married for over four decades, their marriage is one built of grudging toleration and absolute silence: they never speak to each other directly, but always through someone else. Throughout the novel, Mosher portrays aspects of farm life in northern Vermont as viewed through the eyes of a young boy in awe of both grandparents, but particularly of his Grandfather Austen, whose curmudgeonly independence fascinates the boy, and the cause of whose aloofness is eventually revealed. Mosher "has painted a touching and unforgettable portrait of a people and time that are past but will, thanks to him, be long remembered," noted Fannie Flagg in an appraisal of Northern Borders for the New York Times Book Review.
The Fall of the Year once again revisits the village of Kingdom Common, in this case as seen through the eyes of Frank Bennett. Having returned from college for the summer to contemplate entering the priesthood, Frank finds his reveries broken by the antics of his fellow villagers—including Father George Lecoeur, his adopted father. A setting in the late 1950s allows Mosher to illustrate the changes being wrought in the Northeast Kingdom. Library Journal reviewer Patrick Sullivan praised the book for its "cast of colorful, often eccentric, and skillfully realized secondary characters." A Publishers Weekly reviewer likewise felt that the novel "finds Mosher at his agile best, spinning a tale that richly melds vibrant character sketches and a palpable sense of place." The critic added that a "rich sense of story [sustains] this … winning novel."
Mosher's 1997 memoir, North Country: A Personal Journey through the Borderland, recounts his six-week journey along the entire length of the U.S.-Canadian border, which he traversed hoping to encounter the wealth of eccentrics—from smugglers and Neo-Nazis to homesteaders and ardent nature-lovers—that he suspected populated this region where the two nations converged. Mosher's premise, noted Tribune Books critic Gavin Scott, was that people living along this vast border stretching from Atlantic to Pacific would share the characteristics of his fictional characters: "a fierce and praiseworthy sense of independence that is unique." But, Scott argued, "That romantic view may hold water in Mosher's Northeast Kingdom … but the title's term ‘North Country’ … seems more redolent of Chamber of Commerce boosterism and wistful General Store calendars than political fact. Certainly … ‘North Country’ is not part of the mind-set in brawny border places like Buffalo and Detroit. Its application in the Great Plains and in the Rockies and Cascades is a literary reach." Not to mention, Scott added, that the "North Country" of the United States is shadowed by heavily populated southern Canada. Other critics, however, expressed more enthusiasm for the book. David M. Shribman, in the Boston Globe, described the memoir as "a celebration of a region and a mentality," and New York Times Book Review critic Thomas McNamee remarked that "lost souls, lonely places, and small pleasures alike have their particular dignity when Mr. Mosher shines the light of his sympathy on them."
Mosher also collaborated with photographer John M. Miller on the volume Granite and Cedar: The People and the Land of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Miller's black-and-white photographs are interspersed through Mosher's novella about one Miss Jane Hubbell and her efforts to move a family graveyard out of the path of the incoming interstate highway. The book takes as its theme the disappearance of the unique lifestyles of the Northeast Kingdom. In his review of the work for Borealis magazine, John Mahoney stated: "There was a resonance, an immediate appreciation of the images and the tale laid out before me on the kitchen table. I felt a shared history with the book. Granite and Cedar doesn't break new ground…. But it does set a higher standard of excellence from content through production to product."
The True Account is an adventure story that traces the journey of Vermont resident Ticonderoga Kinneson and his Uncle True as they decide to travel across the country in hopes of beating the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Along the route, they find themselves working with the famous explorers on more than one occasion, although they get into a fair amount of mischief on their own as well. Despite the nineteenth-century setting and writing style, Mosher superimposes some modern values on the story, providing readers with gentler, kinder Native Americans and with female characters that stand shoulder to shoulder with the men. However, Ted Westervelt, reviewing for School Library Journal, remarked that "readers are treated to adventure and comedy, without losing any of the seriousness of the actual events." In a review for Booklist, contributor Margaret Flanagan felt that "this novel celebrates the unique brand of homespun humor popularized in the tall tales of Mark Twain."
Mosher's Waiting for Teddy Williams, published in 2004, tells the story of baseball lover Ethan "E.A." Allen as he grows up in Kingdom County, Vermont. A loner who is schooled at home, raised by his mother and grandmother—each tough women in their own right—E.A. mostly dreams of the big leagues until a stranger comes to town and it appears that his dreams might actually become a reality. Remarking on the dichotomy of the fictional town and E.A.'s ambitions combined with his realistic background, Bill Ott, contributor to Booklist, wrote: "Mosher is a master at combining sweet and sour." Again reviewing for School Library Journal, Ted Westervelt noted: "This well-written tale from an accomplished author contains many of his trademark elements."
In On Kingdom Mountain, Mosher returns yet again to his fictional world of Kingdom County, Vermont. The focus of this visit is Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, a local eccentric who runs the library and bookstore in town and carves birds as a hobby. More notably, however, she is sole heir to Kingdom Mountain, a high local peak that features plenty of wildlife and unspoiled acreage. However, when a new road is slated to cut through the property, Jane stands firm against progress and the enemies of nature, along with newcomer Henry Satterfield, an aviator who joins her in her crusade, as he himself is far more interested in combing Kingdom Country for a mysterious set of stolen gold coins. As Jane's long-missing uncle might have a connection to the gold, Jane is willing to lend a hand for Satterfield's cause in return for his assistance with her own. Maureen Neville, in a review for Library Journal, commented on the book for its "dose of magic realism and an assortment of odd, endearing characters." Booklist reviewer Elizabeth Dickie remarked that "the host of small-town Vermonters who populate the story are little gems, both hilarious and poignant."
Over the course of his writing career, Mosher has developed a reputation as a respected commentator on the often overlooked details and eccentricities of northeastern life. His creation of a fictional landscape that manages to evoke the better qualities of a bygone era has won him the praise of numerous critics. As Canby described Mosher's literary world, "it is composed of traditional elements of New England frontier life, but it could serve also as a sort of microcosm of the American experience—brimstone theology, extreme independence, imaginations tempered by hostile climate and natural beauty." Although described by Canby as "quiet and unassuming," Mosher has created works that many see as a fierce statement of American individuality and perseverance, with a voice that speaks loudly of the triumphs and beauty of a hard-won lifestyle.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 62, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991, pp. 310-318.
Mosher, Howard Frank, North Country: A Personal Journey through the Borderland, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Booklist, May 15, 2003, Margaret Flanagan, review of The True Account, p. 1640; August, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Waiting for Teddy Williams, p. 1901; April 15, 2007, Elizabeth Dickie, review of On Kingdom Mountain, p. 31.
Borealis, January-February, 2002, John Mahoney, "Stiking Close to Home," pp. 24-25.
Boston Globe, June 15, 1997, David M. Shribman, review of North Country, p. N19.
Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 1984, Bruce Allen, review of Marie Blythe, p. 20; August 3, 1984, Bruce Allen, review of Disappearances, p. 88.
Country Journal, May, 1982, Peter Canby, interview with Howard Frank Mosher, pp. 78-82.
Harper's, January, 1978, Frances Taliaferro, review of Disappearances, pp. 86-87.
Library Journal, September 1, 1983, Pat Goodfellow, review of Marie Blythe, p. 1721; September 1, 1999, Patrick Sullivan, review of The Fall of the Year, p. 234; March 1, 2000, Karen Bohrer, review of The Fall of the Year, p. 152; May 15, 2007, Maureen Neville, review of On Kingdom Mountain, p. 81.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, Grace Edwards-Yearwood, review of A Stranger in the Kingdom, p. 9.
New Times, December 11, 1978, Geoffrey Wolff, review of Where the Rivers Flow North, pp. 85-86.
New York Times, October 26, 1989, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of A Stranger in the Kingdom.
New York Times Book Review, October 29, 1989, Lee Smith, review of A Stranger in the Kingdom, p. 11; September 4, 1994, Fannie Flagg, review of Northern Borders, p. 8; May 11, 1997, Thomas McNamee, review of North Country, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1999, review of The Fall of the Year, p. 44.
School Library Journal, September, 2003, Ted Westervelt, review of The True Account, p. 241; September, 2004, Ted Westervelt, review of Waiting for Teddy Williams, p. 234.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 26, 1978, Norbert Blei, review of Where the Rivers Flow North, p. 9; June 29, 1997, Gavin Scott, review of North Country, p. 7.
Washington Post, December 20, 1977, William Logan, review of Disappearances.
Atlantic Online,http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/ (April 2, 2002), Katie Bacon, "A Disappearing Eden."