The Wooden Nickel: A Novel

The Wooden Nickel: A Novel

by William Carpenter


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Lucky Lunt is an endangered species: a third generation lobsterman who works the same Maine waters as his father and grandfather in a boat called The Wooden Nickel. He can identify every car in town from the sound of its engine, but his world is changing faster then he can fathom. His wife has become an artist, selling sea-glass sculptures to tourists. His daughter is bound for college, while his son has turned angry and lawless. Lucky's own heart is failing him, too. An operation has kept it ticking, but he can't run the boat alone any more.

As the spring lobster season opens, the only deckhand Lucky can find to help load his traps is Ronette, the not-quite-divorced wife of the local lobster wholesaler. When the two make it out to the fishing grounds, someone else's buoys are bobbing in his ancestral waters. Before he knows it, Lucky is in a lobster war and has abandoned all the rules: family, health, finance, even the rules of the sea that have guided him throughout his life. As waves of trouble turn into a flood tide, Lucky's pride propels him into an epic confrontation with his enemies and a rogue whale — a battle his unreliable heart may not survive.

The Wooden Nickel is a classic story of a man raging against a changing world, full of pathos and comedy. It is a remarkable novel by a writer with a powerful, distinct, and original voice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316089746
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 03/05/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

William Carpenter teaches literature at the College of the Atlantic in Maine. His first novel, A Keeper of Sheep, was published by Milkweed Editions in the mid-90s to critical acclaim. He has also written three volumes of poetry which won numerous awards in the US and abroad.

Read an Excerpt

The Wooden Nickel

By William Carpenter

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2002 William Carpenter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-13400-7

Chapter One

HE'S SOUND ASLEEP, no dreams, nothing, then a hand touches his forehead and he surfaces slowly, as if they're hauling his brain off a fifteen-fathom ledge. The voice sounds like a stranger, though it's the same one that has whispered him awake for twenty years. "Lucas. It's almost quarter of five."

She gets up even before he does, checks out the forecast on the scanner, arranges his clothes on the bedroom recliner so he can feel for them in the dark. He can tell the weather from what's laid out for him. Today it might as well be January, she's got the union suit, two sweatshirts, wool pants, two pair of socks. "What the hell?" he says. "Look."

He raises the blind. The red GMC pickup down in the driveway is covered with snow. "Jesus H. Christ, Sarah. It's April."

"Quiet, you'll wake the kids. The weather radio says it's changing to rain. And you know, Lucas, it's not just April, it's the fifteenth. Have you mailed the tax forms?" "F-k them bastards. I paid them last year." "You didn't, Lucas. It was the year before. And I wound up doing it."

April 15 may be a black moment for the lawful citizen, but it's Opening Day for the lobstermen of Orphan Point, and the Wooden Nickel's sitting out there in the predawn darkness with forty-eight brand-new wooden traps weighing down the stern. He was up till near midnight loading them on because that son of a bitch Hannaford put him on last for the dock crane. Clyde Hannaford blames everyone in town for his wife problem but for some reason Lucky most of all, though he knows god damn well Lucky's married with two kids and Sarah does not cut him much slack to frig around.

He is tired and pissed, mainly at himself for not putting the pickup in the garage so he has to scrape two inches of wet slush off the windshield, and for taking the big Fisher plow off the hook already and storing it out back. Forty-six years in Orphan Point, you'd think he'd seen enough April blizzards to know better, but this is the year they said global warming was supposed to kick in. Fucking environmentalists, nothing but broken promises. If you have your head up your ass, naturally the world is going to look like shit.

He would have liked to plow Sarah out before going to work. Now he can't. The pickup's got thirty-three-inch Wranglers, it can steam through this fluff without even going into four-wheel drive. But her little blue Lynx with the twelve-inch tires won't be able to claw its way out of the garage. Kyle won't shovel her out either, because she'll let him sleep till ten minutes before his ride like he was still in the second grade. Well fuck her, he thinks, she has dug her own grave with that kid, she'll be lucky if he doesn't end up in Thomaston like Howard Thurston's son that robbed the convenience store, three and a half years and one suspended.

Now she's bent over in the half-light, going through his pockets. "Just making sure you have your medication along. There won't be any drugstores out there."

"And checking for cigarettes." "We do want to keep you alive, Lucas, even if it's against your will. You know what young Dr. Burnside said, and I'm not going to be along to remind you."

She doesn't find them. Fact is, the Marlboros went aboard already, along with the gear, fuel and bait.

Thick snow blows towards his windshield so it feels like he's stopped dead and the white world is swimming past. He drives the still-unplowed road around the back side of the cove towards Hannaford's wharf. Other pickups are coming from other directions, their lights illuminating the snowflakes like darting schools of shiners as they converge on the waterfront. Lucky of course knows every truck, every driver and passenger, even in the predawn darkness, and he would know them if struck blind, so long as he could hear their individual engines and the wake of their oversize tires through the snow.

Every boat wants to be first out of the harbor on opening day, so they are all heading straight down to the wharf and out to sea, without stopping for coffee and crullers at Doris's. He, Lucky Lunt, was once among the first men out with the most traps, but last season Kyle stopped sterning for him, he had to do all the work out there, and he slowed down. One string of traps and he'd break into a sweat, have to stop, have a cigarette, a beer maybe, rest half an hour before hauling the next string. Then in the fall he shot the moose up in Ambajezus and couldn't get it out of the woods. They found him passed out on top of the christly thing, at first they couldn't tell which one was dead, him or the moose. The paramedics had to use his own four-wheeler to haul him out to a field where the chopper could land. They flew him to the Tarratine hospital and found his arteries choked up like a saltwater engine block. Eleven years since his last checkup. They did the first angioplasty on the spot and sent him home, he was out on the water in a week. They drill right through your crotch up into the coronaries and inflate a long skinny five-thousand-dollar condom which is supposed to push the layers of butter and french fries back against the arterial wall. Sarah served the moose for Thanksgiving dinner, next morning he was back in the heart ward for another try. The second time, when they pulled the balloon out they left a stent to keep the stuff in place, a few inches of stainless steel plumbing that will still shine like starlight when the rest of him's eaten up by worms.

Sarah had a hard time adjusting to a metal part inside her husband, but the way he sees it, the stent brings him that much closer to the hearts of his boat and truck, an honorary member of the mechanical world.

After the operation they poisoned him with vegetables and put him on three or four different-colored pills, which he's long since mixed together in the same brown bottles, one in the pickup, one over the bathroom sink. He takes a handful of them now and then when Sarah reminds him, though they make him seasick in front of the TV. Well fuck that, he'd rather listen to country, though when the stock car races are on he clings to both arms of his chair and watches anyway.

He's also under strict orders to slow it down, not drive straight to his chained-up skiff but pause for a cup of decaf at the Blue Claw, and if Doris is not yet open, spend a moment relaxing in the pickup cab with the heater on listening to High Country 104. Course it will make him the last boat on the water, an honor that used to belong to Alonzo Gross, but now the Wooden Nickel will bring up the f-king rear. He used to be right up there with Art Pettingill, who goes to bed at half past seven and rises at three, but now he's supposed to cut his stress level in half and take time "for himself," as Dr. Burnside told him, but who the f-k is himself? There's lobsters, there's the Wooden Nickel and there's the sea. That's it.

Doris opens the Blue Claw sharply at five-thirty, but he's already in the parking lot at twenty past. He knows she's in there because her old Plymouth minivan's out back with the faded blue claw on its two front doors. The restaurant windows are fogged already with coffee steam, but the closed sign is still up and she's not going to flip it around till five-thirty even if the coffee is turning to creosote at the bottom of the urn.

There's enough light now to make out the silhouette of the Wooden Nickel moored among the Orphan Point fleet, all of them stern down and low in the water under their first-day load of traps. A wheelhouse light snaps on in one of the boats, then another, then red and green running lights that blur through the light snow like it's still Christmas. The first diesel kicks in, maybe Pettingill's but nope, it's a straight-six, probably Dennis Gower in the Kathleen and Brian, which he repowered with a Volvo 102 last year but it already sounds like an old man farting himself to death. Big dumb Swedes, twenty-four hours of daylight and still they can't build shit.

The diesel sounds float in over the water and fill his heart with anxiety and competition till he feels the medication kick in and slow it down. How is he going to cut his christly stress level in half if he has to sit here hearing the other boats start up? He takes the pill bottle out of his lunchbox and puts it in the glove compartment instead. Fuck that. He's not going on the water with that stuff.

The DJ is still playing his mellow wee-hours material, it fits right in with the sky clearing and the late stars coming through the clouds. He even lets himself cue up Garth Brooks's "Go Tell It on the Mountain" because of the weather, must still be winter up in the mountains where their studio is. On the western side of the harbor, lined with gloomy vacant summer estates, there's not a sign of life. On the east, though, all along the shore he can make out the lights of fishermen's homes through the colorless snowy haze of dawn. The men are already at work but their wives are cleaning up after the first-shift breakfast and getting ready to rouse and feed the kids. He knows the town so well it's like X-ray vision, he can see through the walls, knows each woman in each kitchen, each kid in bed, the contents of the refrigerator and what station she's tuned to waiting for the sun to come up, country mostly, but some will have the Christian station or the talk show, then they'll all switch over to Rush when he comes on.

It was torture to see Art Pettingill and his boy drive past him in their big crew-cab F-350, not even turning to look at the Blue Claw, straight to the mooring. Art's boy will be straining at the oars, Big Art in the stern, skiff sinking under his whale's body and the twelve-pound lunch pail in his lap, Art putting the sponge to her every ten seconds because she's still full of shotgun holes from when the Split Cove boys gave him a piece of advice. He hears their boat start up, old Caterpillar 320 with dual pipes up through the wheelhouse roof. The Bonanza. Banana, it should be called, it's got the hog shape and the yellow hull covering the rust that drips off of all Art's gear. Still, he is a highliner and he brings them in. Thirty-five thousand pounds of lobster last season and his wife won't let him trade the boat. Alma Pettingill's a churchgoing woman and she's got him securely by the nuts.

Art's son is fifteen, sixteen, great big kid, just the right age for a sternman. Another year or two and they want their own boats, then you have to hire a stranger who half the time won't know what the fuck is going on. Sternperson, that's what you're supposed to call them now, though somehow that word makes him think of doing it dog style, he can't say why. Things have changed, there's a lot of female sternmen. Wives, daughters, girlfriends, it does improve the morning if you can get laid down in the cuddy after a few strings, but for Lucky Lunt the purpose of going out on the water is to catch lobsters, and like his old man used to quote out of the Bible, a man's not supposed to mix fish and flesh. The day Ellis Seavey took that Tarratine girl with the bikini top out to show her his trapline, Lucky shouted, "Going after crabs today?" and Ellis didn't speak to him for a month. That whole summer Ellis had one hand under his oilskins, scratching away, till his uncle Lester lent him his tube of Captain Scratch's crotch ointment and they found someplace else to live.

Twenty-five past. He keeps the pickup idling in park, not just because it's cold but he also likes the sound of the rods just turning the crankshaft over in its bath of oil. The pickup's only a 350 but it's a 4-barrel, and its low, rumbly, slow-turning V-8 with just the right hint of exhaust failure sounds enough like his Chevy 454 marine to get his blood moving even before his first sip of the morning regular Sarah won't give him but Doris might.

Just light enough to see Art Pettingill's old Cat diesel farting black soot like a Greyhound bus as the Bonanza casts off and smokes out towards Sodom Ledge into the April fog. Art's got a CB tuned to the truck channel because his brother drives for Irving Oil, another radio on VHF 64, which is the Orphan Point fishermen's party line, and a third radio on Christian Country 88.5, all at top volume, though Art can't hear any of them through the Cat's exhaust.

He leans his head back against the reassuring hardwood stock of his .30-06 Remington Standard on its rear-window rack. He used to carry two guns back there, one for Sarah, but after Oscar Reynolds shot his old lady and glassed her into a hull mold, Sarah asked him to lock hers away in the gun cabinet. Each year, as the hair on the back of his head thins, he can feel the oiled walnut stock more clearly against the exposed nerves of his scalp.

The .30-06 hasn't left its rack since the ill-fated Ambajezus hunting trip when he wound up getting butchered along with the moose. He likes the gun there, though, it's a warmer headrest than the plate glass window.

He can see the whole harbor now as the snow subsides and the day brightens over Doris's parking lot. The Blue Claw sits at the head of the harbor just east of the bridge over Orphan Creek. Over on the westward side, where there's water enough to float a vessel at all tides, is the wharf of Clyde Hannaford, buyer and dealer for the Orphan Point lobster fleet. Like it or not, you catch lobsters, you deal with Clyde. Otherwise you might as well eat the f-king things yourself. Clyde has a monopoly, that's how it is and has always been. Over in Split Cove they have a socialist co-op, maybe they pay a cunt hair more than Clyde does, but if you don't like the American way, you might as well move up to Canada and sit back and let the government pay you not to fish.

Beyond Clyde's, passing down Summer Street where the Money shore begins, there's Phelan's boatyard, full of sailboats shrink-wrapped for winter like a field of tent caterpillars. Then comes the row of summer shops-the Quiche Barne, Bloom's Antiques, the Cockatiel Café. Then the Orphan Point Yacht Club, dues alone more than a working man makes in a year. Then a chocolate-colored Episcopal church with a fancy brown-shingled steeple that starts tapering at the ground and terminates in a golden cross. The summer people have that cross gilded every June with fourteen-karat gold leaf, slapped on by some bearded asshole they get up all the way from Philadelphia. After that church Summer Street peters out into a dirt road running behind the row of big spooky summer mansions they used to break into to smoke and jerk off when they were kids.

On the other side of the harbor, there's Main Street, where the year-round fishermen live, there's the Blue Claw, Lurvey's Convenience & Video and Ashmore's Garage.


Excerpted from The Wooden Nickel by William Carpenter Copyright ©2002 by William Carpenter . Excerpted by permission.
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