Balaam Gimble´s Gumption
Don Quixote of West Texas!
In the character Balaam Gimble, Mike Nichols has created a knight-errant of contemporary rural Texas: a Joe Don Quixote. Granted, Balaam´s trusty steed may be only a rusty Frankenford " a twenty-three-year-old Ford pickup, reanimated time and again by the transplantation of parts from pickup cadavers, but the giants that Balaam tilts against are real enough to him " a ruthless businessman, a masseur-turned-dirty trickster, a money-mad hometown, and, most of all, plain old change.
For months the mayor and city council of the small town of Willoughby have been seeking a way to revitalize their town, to return it to the oil-and-cotton prosperity that it had enjoyed during the 1920s. They need an angle, something to put Willoughby on the map. When Balaam discovers a spring of health-giving mineral water on his two hundred acres of "woods and weeds," the town leaders suddenly see their angle.
As Willoughby´s merchants begin selling Mason jars of Balaam´s wonder water, the town´s economic future looks much greener: Howard J. Liggett, the millionaire developer of a chain of upscale mineral spring resorts, offers to buy Balaam´s land at many times its market value and build a resort on it, bringing even more people and prosperity to Willoughby. Residents soon forget how much they had cherished the "in our own sweet time" pace of their languishing little town.
Only Balaam sees that the town is beginning to change for the worse and is determined to save Willoughby from itself. Balaam is adamant - he won´t sell the land that has been in his family five generations. But Liggett is just as adamant-he will acquire Balaam´s land by hook or crook.
That crook is Ernie Ruiz, a young masseur with a criminal record. Liggett dispatches Ruiz to Willoughby to "persuade" Balaam to sell. Balaam remains serenely nonviolent in the face of Ruiz´s campaign of terror.
When Ruiz cannot coerce Balaam to sell, Liggett stoops even lower: He resorts to perfectly legal means, informing Balaam that he has bought the mineral rights. Now the people of Willoughby know that even fool-headed Balaam, bless his heart, can´t keep Willoughby off the map. Desperate, Balaam the knight-errant saddles up his Frankenford to make one final head-down, neck-bowed, full-gallop, Lone Star-spangled tilt at the windmills that threaten his hometown.
The Texas Institute of Letters has awarded Balaam Gimble´s Gumption the John Bloom Humor Award for the Funniest Texas Book published in 2004.
Kinky Friedman, author of ´Scuse Me While I Whip This Out.
"In Balaam Gimble, Mike Nichols has created a man after my own heart. Balaam lives in a world most of us can only dream about - with a pet deer named Stilts, a hidden cave with healing waters, more Mason jars than a Tennessee still, a mountain of exploding cow chips, and a terrified masseur zipping around central Texas on a riding lawn mower. What else could you want?"
Bud Shrake, author of Blessed McGill and The Borderland.
"Mike Nichols takes his readers into worlds they could not otherwise visit, and furnishes plenty of laughs along the way."
Ben Rehder, author of Flat Crazy, his third Blanco County mystery.
"There aren´t many novels that can make you laugh while simultaneously making you examine your priorities in life. This one pulls it off with grace - part parable, part satire, and all comedy. Wherever Willoughby, Texas, is, I want to live there. We could use more men like Balaam Gimble."
Betty Brink, reporter, Fort Worth Weekly.
"When I finished this book, I wanted to run away with Balaam Gimble. But then I realized I couldn´t. I had to run to Balaam, since he sure wasn´t a´goin´ no-where.
Mike Nichols, a native Texan and a writer of unique talent - he´s a story-teller in the best tradition of that threatened species - has written a marvelous tale, a gentle satire and comic-tragedy that will have you laughing out loud, shedding a few tears, and always cheering for the pure-at-heart (well, mostly), country philosopher, deer protector, and part-time handyman Balaam as he tries to show his friends and neighbors in the fictional small Texas town of Willoughby that money really can´t buy happiness - or at least it can´t buy Balaam - and that change is not always good."
Jim Sanderson, Awards Committee, Texas Institute of Letters.
"We particularly enjoyed the basis in Texas and the eccentricities of Texans. Mike Nichols captures the unaware funniness of Texans. The committee delighted in the cavalcade of funny characters who just couldn´t quite figure out how funny they were."
Glenn Dromgoole, Abilene Reporter News.
"Mike Nichols´s latest shows a surprising depth . . . The book is filled with delightful characters and humorous situations but has a serious message."
Stacy Schnellenbach Bogle, Fort Worth Weekly.
"Unlike some writers who are content to draw country people as caricatures of the typical Southern hayseed, Nichols peoples his book with the kinds of living, breathing folks you´d find in any small Texas community. Run in to the Chigger Ranch Convenience Store in Dublin for a bag of chips and an original recipe Dr. Pepper, and you´ll find the same kinds of characters as those who populate Balaam Gimble´s Gumption.
Balaam Gimble´s Gumption is . . . a novel of integrity, with a solid premise, believable characters, and cleverly understated dialogue. Nichols has assembled a host of individuals who gladly live in a place where, when you stop to smell the roses, the noise in the background is that of an armadillo rustling through the underbrush--not the roar of gunfire from the neighbor kid´s video game. All in all, a pretty nice place to spend some time."
Jeff Guinn, book critic, Fort Worth Star-Telegram..
"Anyone who remembers Mike Nichols´ quirky Star-Telegram humor columns from the mid-´80s already knows he´s a funny fellow with a considerable gift for telling good stories. Both these qualities are on prime display in his first novel, Balaam Gimble´s Gumption . . ."
Fred Bonavita, San Antonio Express-News.
"[In Balaam Gimble´s Gumption] Nichols deftly chronicles life in Willoughby, a mythical small Texas town near Waco, whose dwindling population passes the days monitoring the comings and goings (mostly goings) of vehicles beneath the town´s lone flashing red light. Residents also devote a lot of time to tracking what neighbors are doing to and with each other.
[Nichols] captures the essence of small-town life beautifully. His humor is dry, subtle and thoroughly enjoyable. It´s easy to see how the Texas Institute of Letters bestowed the John Bloom Humor Award for the Funniest Texas Book on Balaam Gimble´s Gumption. Put this book at the top of your list of light reading."