“Immersive…awe-inspiring.” —The New York Times “An epic story of love, hope, and perseverance.” — #1 New York Times bestselling author Christina Baker Kline
This “stellar read” (Los Angeles Times) is an exhilarating tale of an unforgettable young woman who bravely exposes the corruption that enriched her father’s employers in early 1900s Colorado.
In a voice infused with sly humor, Sylvie Pelletier recounts leaving her family’s snowbound mountain cabin to work in a manor house for the Padgetts, owners of the marble-mining company that employs her father and dominates the town. Sharp-eyed Sylvie is awed by the luxury around her; fascinated by her employer, the charming “Countess” Inge, and confused by the erratic affections of Jasper, the bookish heir to the family fortune. Her fairy-tale ideas take a dark turn when she realizes the Padgetts’ lofty philosophical talk is at odds with the unfair labor practices that have enriched them. Their servants, the Gradys, formerly enslaved people, have long known this to be true and are making plans to form a utopian community on the Colorado prairie.
Outside the manor walls, the town of Moonstone is roiling with discontent. A handsome union organizer, along with labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, is stirring up the quarry workers. The editor of the local newspaper—a bold woman who takes Sylvie on as an apprentice—is publishing unflattering accounts of the Padgett Company. Sylvie navigates vastly different worlds and struggles to find her way amid conflicting loyalties. When the harsh winter brings tragedy, Sylvie decides to act.
Drawn from true stories of Colorado history, Gilded Mountain is a tale of a bygone American West seized by robber barons and settled by immigrants, and is a story imbued with longing—for self-expression and equality, freedom and adventure.
Reading Group Guide
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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.
Kate Manning is the author of the critically acclaimed novels My Notorious Life, Whitegirl, and Gilded Mountain. A former documentary television producer and winner of two Emmy Awards, she has written for TheNew York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Time, Glamour, and The Guardian, among other publications. She has taught creative writing at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, and lives with her family in New York City.
Why We Love It
“In Gilded Mountain, Kate Manning deftly explores labor rights, women’s rights, and immigration, but somehow the story doesn’t feel overburdened by issues—there’s also a love triangle, gorgeous sentences, and a driving plot that keeps the pages turning. Her descriptions of the Colorado mountain town where the story takes place are breathtaking, and readers will root for complicated heroine Sylvie Pelletier.”
"An expansive novel of passions: love, beauty, suffering; struggles for labor rights, women's equality and the rights of formerly enslaved people... it contains romance, historical fiction and inspired, high-minded thinking on important issues, [with] lovely writing about the natural world... a painfully beautiful novel of big ideals, heartbreaks and tragedies, sewn together by an admirable and unforgettable heroine." —Shelf Awareness
"Stellar... Manning shines at giving the era’s class, racial, and economic tensions a human face. This is one to savor." —Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
"Manning’s bildungsroman not only provides a clear portrait of her young heroine; it captures the intensity of an unsettled time and place in American history.” —Kirkus
"The gold at the center of Kate Manning’s remarkably panoramic and meticulously researched new novel is one indomitable Sylvie Pelletier—an adventurer, a romantic, a crackerjack observer of worlds and hearts. Gilded Mountain is that rare thing: a historical page-turner that nimbly moves from gritty mining shafts to elegant drawing rooms of an earlier America with all its seething and striving, and where—then, as now—fates are decided by a stroke of luck or unluck, kindness and corruption, and reinvention." —Carol Edgarian, author of Vera
"Kate Manning is a master storyteller. Gilded Mountain is so immersive, so richly imagined, that reading it feels akin to time travel. Manning writes historical sagas like no one else; the dreamers, strivers, and opportunists who populate this tale possess a uniquely American desire to reinvent themselves, whatever it takes. An epic story of love, hope and perseverance." —#1 New York Times bestselling author Christina Baker Kline
"Here is adventure of the first order, as young Sylvie Pelletier finds herself thrust into a seething union dispute ina marble-quarrying town. There’s violence in the wintry air, but also romance, as two charismatic men vie for Sylvie’s attention. Dread and love entwine, as the forces and people that transformed the 20th century converge on the town, all this rendered by Ms. Manning in prose as clean and sharp as the stone saws on the mountain. I raced through it. Sylvie is dynamite and Gilded Mountain is brilliant." —#1 New York Times bestselling author Erik Larson
"The best historical novels sing because, through them, we feel the reverberations of the past in the present day. Hard work, love, sorrow, revenge, joy — Gilded Mountain hums with all of this and more." —Mary Beth Keane, New York Times bestselling author of Ask Again, Yes