Lori Lansens begins her novel with a compelling letter from Daniel’s father to his teenage son who is about to leave for college. He wants to share a horrific life-changing event that happened about 20 years ago; much of what he never revealed to his wife. On his eighteenth birthday, the now-adult Wolf, decided to go to Angel’s Peak in the mountains overlooking Palm Springs and commit suicide. It was the one year anniversary of his friend Byrd’s accident. For reasons as of yet unexplained, we learn Wolf spent five days in the mountains during a brutally cold November with three strangers and, at the end of the ordeal, “not everyone survived.” We learn Wolf’s mother died when he was little and his dad, whom he calls, Frankie, was in prison for vehicular homicide. The family motto is “There will be sway” and we come to understand the meaning related to the rocking motion passengers experience in the tramcar as it approaches and passes the five towers on its ascent to the mountains.
At the conclusion of the letter, the reader is enthralled to continue and unravel the mysteries Lansens introduces in her opening. The remainder of the book is organized into chapters: Before, The First Day, The Second Day, The Third Day, The Fourth Day, The Fifth Day, and After. As we know Wolf is in the mountains for five days and one person does not survive, suspense builds with each page.
Lansens reveals the stories of each character and threads them together. Her description of the mountain wilderness is excellent to the point I felt the cold wind pimple my arms and sensed there were vultures over my head! She explores issues such as sibling relationships, friendship, parent-child dynamics, spousal love, disappointment, lost dreams and grief. Her phraseology is superb and the following exemplifies how a string of words describes the conflicts within a particular relationship. The sixty-something Nola says to her daughter, Bridget and Bridget’s daughter, Vonn that “…one of you is gas and the other flame.”
The time shifts from present to flashbacks and hints at the future. I must concede, however, that I was somewhat sceptical that the characters with their individual situations could survive in the mountains. A touch of the melodramatic contributed to my disbelief and, unfortunately, discredited the integrity of the tale. (Please note that I have omitted specific details for fear of “spoiling” the novel for those who have yet to read it.) This represented my major complaint with The Mountain Story.
By the time the novel ends, Lansens answers the questions raised in the letter and the reader senses a circle completed. It becomes clear why “There will be sway” is the family motto. The adage resonates with the upheaval we all confront in life and, as a result, connects us intimately to the story.
I appreciated the names Lansens selected for her characters and felt they deepened our ties to them. For example, Byrd’s real name was “Byron” but given the nature of his accident, the subliminal reference to flight was clever. Also, Vonn referred to her mother by her first name, Bridget as did Wolf with his father, Frankie. This similarity hints at common ground and a future relationship. And finally, Wolf’s surname, “Truly” intimates why he decided to tell his son about this experience, expresses his values and the relationship he wants to have with his child.
And as a final note, Lansens has wonderful artistry with language and there were many quotes that caused me to reflect on both the novel and life in general. This quote is from The Fifth Day:
“Regrets. Sure, you think about regrets, but it’s not regret for the things you’ve done that occupy you as much as it is a longing for the things you’ll never have the chance to do.”