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Heroine Sylvie Pelletier recounts how she leaves her family’s snowbound cabin to work for the Padgetts—owners of the marble-mining company that employs her father. At first, Sylvie is awed by the luxury around her. She’s fascinated by her employer (the charming “Countess” Inge) and confused by the erratic affections of Jasper, heir to the family fortune. But Sylvie discovers that the Padgetts’ lofty ideals are at odds with the unfair labor practices that enrich them.
Outside the manor walls, the town of Moonstone is roiling with discontent. The editor of the local newspaper is publishing unflattering accounts of the Padgett Company. The Padgetts’ servants the Gradys are preparing to form a utopian community on the Colorado prairie. And a union organizer, along with labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, is stirring up the quarry workers. Sylvie must navigate between these vastly different worlds and find her way amid conflicting loyalties. TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Sylvie frequently mentions that she feels restrained, tongue-tied, squelched, and silenced, but seldom expresses resentment or anger aloud. What are the causes of her silence? Who else in the book is silent? About what and why? How is silence useful? Destructive? When characters do speak out, what are the repercussions?
2. Gilded Mountain
might also have been called “The Education of Sylvie Pelletier.” What does Sylvie learn—about herself and the ways of the world—over the course of the novel? Where does she get her education?
3. Five women act as role models for Sylvie: her mother, Cherie Pelletier; newspaper editor K. T. Redmond; the “Countess” Ingeborg; the chef Easter Grady; and Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. What choices are available to these women at the time in which the novel is set? What lessons does Sylvie take from each of them? How do they ultimately change or shape her?
4. Discuss the many ways in which characters “reinvent” themselves in Gilded Mountain
. Who succeeds and who fails? What, in your opinion, does it mean to reinvent yourself in the context of this story? Does every character in this novel have the power/opportunity to self-invent? Which characters do, and which characters don’t? Is it a privilege or a right?
5. Moonstone is a “company town,” while the Grady family aims to create a utopian community for the descendants of enslaved people in Weld County. What are the founders of each place hoping to achieve? How do they aim to control what happens in these places, and why? Quarrytown and a certain neighborhood of Moonstone—given a name that uses a slur for Italian immigrants—are also called “towns,” but are they?
6. Trace the effects of great wealth on the lives of the characters. What does Sylvie learn about wealth and charity by the end of the book?
7. Sylvie is a child of Québécois immigrants. On page 18 she asks, “How was anyone to be American?” How do various characters answer the question of what it means to be American? How does she navigate the tension between her parents’ culture and her own? And how does her immigrant perspective inform how she sees herself and others?
8. Gilded Mountain
predominantly takes place in 1907–08, during a financial panic, an enormous influx of immigrant labor, violence against African Americans, and workers’ struggles over fair wages, workplace safety, and the right to unionize. How do these “external” forces and events shape the individual lives of the “ordinary” people in the story?
9. The town of Moonstone has two newspapers, each with a particular editorial point of view. How do their different approaches to news reporting affect what happens in the town?
10. Gilded Mountain
features a number of sympathetic characters—including some who also perform or are complicit in harmful acts. While reading, did you find yourself drawn to any one character (besides Sylvie)? Discuss your favorites and how they are portrayed.
11. Early on, Sylvie mentions that marble stone is used for building “statues and bank pillars, monuments. Gravestones” (page 2). What is the role of memory and memorializing in the book? Who and what is honored and why? What do the different characters believe about what is owed to the dead? What purpose do monuments and memorials serve in the story? ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Gilded Mountain
is a historical novel, and the author blends fictional characters and places with real ones. Research the historical figures, as well as the models for some of the fictional people, places, and events in the book, and discuss them with your book club. Does it surprise you that some characters and events are based in fact? What about locations? (Hint: Try googling Marble, Colorado!)
2. Draw parallels between the events of this novel and events that have occurred in recent history. Discuss these connections with your reading group.
3. Consider an event from the past that has shaped/influenced the course of your life. Try writing about this event the way Sylvie does—narrating from a retrospective point of view. Has your perspective of the event changed with the passage of time? Why or why not?
4. Read Kate Manning’s prior novel My Notorious Life,
about a renowned midwife, and discuss the differences and similarities between the heroines Axie Muldoon and Sylvie Pelletier.
FOR THOSE WHO IMBIBE AND ARE OF AGE, TRY A GILDED MOUNTAIN-THEMED DRINK:
THE FIZZING SWOON
A frontier twist on a Soixante Quinze, or French 75.
Sylvie says of her sip of champagne at the Hunters’ Ball, “A swallow went down my throat like a zipper unzipping, the taste of fizz.” And later that night she has her first kiss on the banks of the Diamond River: “I was ruined now, by pineapple and electricity, champagne in flutes, the drunken swoon by the river.”
Enjoy this champagne cocktail, but don’t let it ruin your reputation!
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tsp ground powdered sugar
1.5 oz rye whiskey
2.5 oz champagne (cava or prosecco work too)
Ground powdered sugar with mortar and pestle and squeeze fresh lemon juice. Combine sugar and lemon juice in the base of a cocktail shaker until sugar dissolves. Add whiskey, shake vigorously with ice, then strain into ice-filled glass. Top with champagne and stir. Garnish with a lemon peel.