Reviewed by Marilyn Herbert
Mountain climbing and hiking are not for the faint of heart, yet Lori Lansens (author of The Girls) has given us an amazing story to experience vicariously in her novel The Mountain Story. The book’s cover says: “Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors.” From the beginning, there are pressing questions.
Wolf Truly is 18 years old when he takes what he believes is his last tram ride up to the mountain located at the edge of the California desert. Once there, he intends to hike to a spot at Secret Lake to take his life. His objective is diverted by first two, then three women who hope to head to the same location, but need his help to get there.
Nola and Bridget decide that Wolf is a mountain guide and offer him money, which he refuses and he resolutely heads off into the bush. Hearing his name in the wind, he turns just in time to see the two women heading off in the wrong direction.
Poor Wolf. Soon afterwards, the third woman, Vonn, catches up to them — there is a swarm of bees, a beetle-infested log, confusion, and nervousness at having to spend a night on the mountain. In trying to clear a sleeping spot, they fell, “lost in the kaleidoscope of rocks and ochre dust and manzanita and sage, conveyed by round, rushing boulders, and silt, and brush, hitting the ground with a thud.”
In an instant, they have fallen down a steep wall at the edge of a cliff overlooking Palm Springs — so near, yet so far. Despite the California location, the weather at the top is extremely cold. Nola has a broken wrist, Bridget is dressed as a yoga instructor and Vonn is wearing green flip-flops. Wolf feels responsible for their well-being and their hopeful rescue.
Lansens’ novel is a definite page-turner, filled with parallels, juxtapositions, foreshadowing, and themes such as loss, survival, reality vs. hallucination, heroism, sadness and regret, parenting and responsibility, and hope in a hopeless situation. As we are told at the beginning, just as the tram sways in the wind on its journey to the top, so life has sway. Plans and pathways are changed, relationships forged and reconfigured, respect for the land and nature is strengthened.
The style of the book is epistolary, that is, it is formatted as a letter to Wolf’s son, Daniel. We know that Wolf has survived, but who was the hiker who died? Who is the son? What happened to the other two women? What happened to Wolf’s friend Byrd, whose accident triggered Wolf’s suicide mission?
Wolf has a story to tell his son that he feels will change Daniel’s life. It may not change the reader’s life, but it certainly offers up thoughtful perspectives, curious interest, and empathy for the novel’s characters.
Things to think about and discuss:
- The novel’s format is a letter from Wolf to his son. Why did Wolf choose to tell his story this way?
- The Devine women are three generations of the same family: grandmother, mother, daughter. How does Lansens deal with the issue of parenting with these characters? Where does the motherless Wolf fit into the picture?
- Responsibility and guilt are prominent themes in the book. Consider each character in terms of these issues. Where does each one fit onto the scale of responsibility?
- Lansens hasn’t written a book about native culture, but the elements of that culture are infused throughout. What elements of native culture did you find in the writing, the characters, and the events?
Want to receive a $5 coupon for a Bookclub-in-a-Box PDF discussion guide? Just leave a comment below telling us what you thought of The Mountain Story, or why you want to read this novel, and we’ll send you a coupon. Offer ends at 11:59 p.m. on March 26 — after five days, the same time period covered in the novel.