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The Mountain Story: A Novel

The Mountain Story: A Novel

4.3 3
by Lori Lansens

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Four lost hikers are about to discover they’re capable of something extraordinary.

Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed. Blonde, stick-thin Bridget is training for a triathalon. Vonn is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet, driven by family obligation and the


Four lost hikers are about to discover they’re capable of something extraordinary.

Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed. Blonde, stick-thin Bridget is training for a triathalon. Vonn is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet, driven by family obligation and the urge to escape her mistakes. Still reeling from the tragic accident that robbed him of his best friend, Wolf Truly is the only experienced hiker among them, but he has come to the cliffs on his eighteenth birthday without food or supplies because he plans to take his own life.

When a series of missteps strands this unusual group together in the wilderness, they soon realize that their only defense against the brutality of nature is one another. As one day without rescue spirals dramatically into the next, and misadventure turns to nightmare, these four broken souls begin to form an inextricable bond, pushing themselves and one another further than they ever could have dreamed possible. The three who make it home alive will be forever changed by their harrowing days on the mountain.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls, The Mountain Story is a fast-paced, suspenseful adventure and a gorgeous tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Braving a landscape both unforgivingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, Nola, Bridget, Vonn, and Wolf find themselves faced with an impossible question: How much will they sacrifice for a stranger?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lansens (The Girls) has written a colorful, adventurous wilderness survival novel. Wilfred “Wolf” Truly decides on his 18th birthday during the late 1970s to commit suicide by leaping off the cliffs of the California batholith known as Angel’s Peak. The decision comes after a series of personal setbacks, including a serious injury to his best friend Byrd Diaz, the early violent death of his mother, Glory, and the imprisonment of his ne’er-do-well father, Frankie. When the depressed Wolf rides the tram to ascend Angel’s Peak, his fellow passengers are three generations of the Devine family: granddaughter Vonn, mother Bridget, and grandmother Nola. He discovers the often sick Vonn has a party-girl streak, the clairvoyant Bridget has trained for a triathlon, and the newly widowed Nola carries her husband Pip’s cremated remains to sprinkle atop Angel’s Peak. On their trek to reach the summit, with the November darkness falling, the ill-equipped hikers get lost. As they begin a harrowing five-day ordeal in the remote alpine outback, Wolf forgets his suicidal intentions. The realistic details, such as the traditional herbal medicine used to fight Nola’s broken-bone infection and the threatening coyotes and vultures, provide the narrative’s raw edge. Genre readers will also be swept along as the suspense builds in this first-rate character-driven thriller. (May)
Jodi Picoult
"Lori Lansens has created a heart-pounder of a book that is every bit as much of an emotional roller-coaster as an adventurous one. Filled with richly drawn characters, unexpected twists, and gritty details about survival, you'll want to read this right now. Unless, that is, you happen to be camping!"
Helen Simonson
“At last an adventure story where everyone is not supremely competent. At last a wilderness story which because it’s fiction has an actual arc and not just a series of encounters. Wolf is one of the most incredible voices I’ve come across in fiction recently and his trailer park environment is stunningly described; at once as absurd as farce and yet hauntingly real. On the mountain, bad judgment and bad luck are the order of the day and your heart will be in your throat as the inevitability of death draws ever closer to one young man and three generations of city women lost in a very real and dangerous mountain wilderness. You may think twice about piling the kids in the car for your next hike!”
Bestselling author of THE BEAR - Claire Cameron
The Mountain Story is an expertly crafted novel about how ordinary lives can be changed by an extraordinary mountain. If climbing speaks to how we can find truth and beauty in hardship, Lansens shows that it is also a way to see inside our souls. This is a survival story with a strong, beating heart. I loved this novel.”
Caroline Leavitt
“Four hikers get lost on a mountain, struggling desperately to stay alive, and it’s all as chilling and gorgeous and full of suspense as a cracking line of ice on a frozen lake. A breathtaking look at how the past footholds the future and how even the bleakest terror can find its way to unfathomable beauty.”

Marina Endicott
"An adventure that pits spectacular danger in the present against the ever-present danger of the past."
Carol Shaben
"A riveting novel of heartbreak, heroism, and redemption. . .[with] equal measures of high drama and humanity that will keep readers spellbound until the last word."
Carol Cassella
"The Mountain Story isa gritty, nail-biting tale of survival and self-revelation. Lori Lansens' lushand potent landscape is painted as vividly as her characters, whose afternoonnature walk becomes a terrifying trek to the very precipice of mortality.Pitted against the impartial elements and their own inner demons, four soulsdiscover that shared humanity is their only dependable lifeline."
The Globe and Mail
The Mountain Story is a feat of storytelling, sure to be one of the most memorable novels of the year, a skilled balance of thriller and domestic drama, of family secrets and struggle for survival. By its closing pages, it gains an almost devastating emotional force that accompanies the irresistible quality of its narrative drive: It’s a master class in fiction and its potential.”
"[Lansens] portrays strong, not-soon forgotten characters in this suspenseful, psychologically rich tale…Lansens brings the reader intimately into their plight: four harrowing days with barely any food or water, trapped in a canyon with seemingly no way down. Their ordeal profoundly affects the four survivors and changes the course of each of their lives.”
UK Associated Press
“The Mountain Story brims with twists and turns that keep readers turning the pages… Immensely readable, beautifully written and incredibly heart-breaking…it’s an extraordinary story of survival, heroism and redemption that will stay with you long after you read the last page.”
Quill & Quire (starred review)
“A thoroughly delightful reading experience. The Mountain Story isthe best kind of binge read: exhilarating, inspiring, and life-affirming.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Like a secret mountain trail, [this novel] twists, turns, and keeps surprising you until the very end…Well-paced and beautifully written, readers will find themselves missing sleep as they read on late into the night."
Toronto Star
“A harrowing tale becomes anengrossing saga of renewal and redemption. Lori Lansens has written an epic work suffused with raw emotional powerand resonance.”
“Poignant and heartbreaking, this book rivets with its examination of what the body and soul need to stay alive."
NOW Magazine
“A superbly crafted, tension-filled tale.”
Amy Scheibe
"A captivating tale of courage, love, and sacrifice, The Mountain Story is transporting. A young man and three women accidentally take a hero's journey that inspires the better angels in all of us."
Library Journal
Writing a letter to his college-bound son, Wolf tells the story of his last visit to a beloved mountain, a journey he had not intended to extend beyond lunch that day. Through a series of flashbacks, he relates much about his life. Eighteen-year-old Wolf, despondent over the loss of his best friend, Byrd, plans to jump from a spot in the mountains near Palm Springs, CA, that holds meaning for them both. However, from his mother, he has inherited a sense of responsibility. When two women approach him, mistaking him for a guide, Wolf reluctantly agrees to lead them. Through a series of minor catastrophes, the group, now four, becomes hopelessly lost. With each new obstacle, the quartet wonders if they will all survive. VERDICT After a slow start, Lansens (The Girls) builds tension by mentioning in Wolf's letter that four went up but only three came down. But her newest offering is more than just a survival tale. It is a story of friendship and loss, but also of growth and hope, and of family bonds that can either tie us down or help us soar. A great read for anyone who likes character-driven, coming-of-age stories with exquisitely described natural settings.—Elizabeth Masterson Mecklenburg Cty. Jail Lib., Charlotte, NC
Kirkus Reviews
In Lansens' latest (The Wife's Tale, 2010, etc.), a teenage boy finds himself stranded on a mountain with three women he doesn't know and must overcome not only the natural elements, but his own fears and guilt.Since the novel is framed as a letter written by Wolf Truly to his son years later, there's no question about his survival; but the letter hints that survival has come at a major cost. The characters' names tell a lot about Lansens' schematic approach to her material. There's the protagonist, Wolf; his best friend, Byrd; and Byrd's beautiful cousin, Lark, with whom Wolf has long been infatuated. Wolf and Byrd met when Wolf was 13, after he and his alcoholic father moved from Michigan to the California desert town of Santa Sophia. They bonded in part because both had lost parents—Wolf his mother, Byrd his mother and father—but Wolf lives in a poor, trashy neighborhood while Byrd's uncle is a successful businessman. Byrd taught Wolf to love the mountain rising above Santa Sophia. When Wolf is 18, he heads to the mountain, alone, on the first anniversary of a terrible accident Byrd had, for which he feels responsible. He's planning to commit suicide when an older woman, the recently widowed Nola, asks him to guide her to Secret Lake. Two women hanging out nearby turn out to be Nola's daughter, Bridget, and granddaughter, Vonn. If Nola is grief-stricken, Bridget exudes desperation. Through a series of missteps, the group gets lost, then trapped in a canyon. As Wolf makes one failed attempt after another to get help, he relives his troubled childhood and becomes caught up in the history and complicated relationships of the women. The conclusion mixes hard-to-believe sacrifice with an equally hard-to-believe happy ending. If nature's danger and beauty are extreme here, the characters too seem melodramatically extreme in their sentimental goodness (and evil).

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Mountain Story


    My boyhood home on Old Dewey Road stood among similar clapboard bungalows in the older, grimier section of Mercury, upwind of Michigan’s largest rendering plant, with the train tracks near enough that I could distinguish passenger from freight by the way the house shook. A year and a half after my mother’s accident—that’s what we called it—my father briefly got sober and painted the entire house, inside and out, a dark, flat blue. Drowning Man Blue. Frankie said it was a tribute to Glory. She loved the color blue.

    Frankie said I was too young, only four years old when she passed away, to have an honest recollection of my mother, but I do. Glory Elizabeth Truly. In my favorite memory she wears a silky white dress with batwing sleeves—one I’ve never seen in photographs. She’s standing in front of a dressing room mirror, smiling at our reflection, and behind us is another mirror where I discover our infinity. “Always,” I say. My beautiful mother laughs and tells me I’m clever before covering my face with soft kisses and spinning me in her embrace. I glimpse us with each turn. Glory looks like an angel in that white dress.

    I remember the mornings with my mother the most, watching her get ready for work (kindergarten teacher) while Frankie (“entrepreneur”) slept upstairs. We talked in whispers as she made up her pretty face and spritzed her curls with lemon-scented hairspray. Before disappearing out the door, she’d turn to smile and then lay her hand on her heart to say she kept me there, even when she was away.

    After she died, Frankie had her name tattooed on his forearm—Glory, in a rainbow that arched over the word Always. I used to think it would have been truer if the tattoo said Glory Once or Glory Briefly or, even better, Sorry, Glory.

    I have never, to my recollection, called Frankie by any name other than his first. My ears were filled with the sound of it, usually shouted, often slurred, by the strangers who came and went from that smoke-choked blue house. Men who slammed doors and broke bottles. Women I didn’t know cooking food I wouldn’t eat. Children I’d never seen playing board games I didn’t own. I remember one time Frankie tossed me a package of gum and warned, “Share that with your sisters.” I turned around to find two freckled redheads I’d never seen before sitting behind me on the couch.

    Glory Always? She was only twenty-five (Frankie a full decade older) when she died. I have my mother’s smile, I’ve been told, but otherwise I’m the image of my father. I remember after a second-grade lesson about immigration, I’d asked Frankie the details of my heritage. He told me that Glory’s family came from England when she was a baby and that her parents, both older physicians, had died of natural causes before my mother graduated from teachers college. Frankie guessed they wouldn’t have liked him. It did occur to me that if Glory’s parents had lived longer, I might never have lived at all.

    When I asked about his side of the family, Frankie hesitated. He was secretive about his past, like me. “On my father’s side we were Trulinos until the nineteen thirties, but then my grandfather decided he wanted a more American-sounding name, so he changed it to Truly and that caused a rift and that’s how we ended up in Michigan. On my mother’s side we’re French Canadian and Cree. My cousins came down to visit us from Quebec one time. They were dark and lean. Badass. I take after my mother’s side. That’s how come I’m so stealthy. Why I like my feet bare.”

    There was this rotting cedar porch out front of our blue house from which I’d leap as a boy—towel-cape aflutter behind me—shouting, “I am Batman,” or “I am Superman,” but I remember one day I lost my cape, and I’d simply shouted, “I am . . . ME!” Frankie slammed his palm on the kitchen table and hollered through the open window, “That kinda arrogance’ll take you to Cleveland, Wolf! Cleveland and back!” Whether he meant to encourage, mock, or scold me, I still have no clue. My father has left me, my whole life, in a state of wonder.

    One spring day when I was thirteen, Frankie stood up from the kitchen table and announced, “We need to be near family now,” like the tragedy of my mother’s death was ten days, and not nearly ten years, old.

    “What family?”

    “We’re moving to California. This summer.”


    “We’ll stay with Kriket till we get on our feet.”

    I’d never been to California and neither had Frankie. I’d never met his sister Kriket (Katherine) and never knew them to be close.

    I figured Frankie had gotten himself into some kind of trouble in Mercury, a debt he couldn’t repay, or maybe he’d slept with somebody’s wife or girlfriend or sister or mother. You wouldn’t think women would go for an unemployed widower in a stained concert T-shirt, but there were plenty of pretty girls around to finger the rainbow on Frankie’s Glory Always tattoo. “I reek of pheromones,” he told me once, flapping his hands around his armpits, encouraging me to take a whiff.

    We made a plan to head for Kriket’s place in the California desert in late July. Frankie was vague when I asked about the future of the little blue house. (Later he told me he’d lost it in a bet.) He bulldozed Glory’s toiletries from their bathroom shelf shrine—the lemon-scented hairspray, prescription ointment for a patch of eczema, an unopened box of decongestant to relieve her springtime allergies—and threw them all into the trash.

    “Won’t need all this where we’re going, Wolf,” he said, which made me wonder why we’d needed it where we were.

    I spent a lot of time at the Mercury Public Library when I was kid. Frankie sent me there to borrow books by way of free babysitting. Miss Kittle was the head librarian, a buttoned-up brunette who, along with the rest of the staff, barely tolerated me. I couldn’t blame them. I stole doughnuts from the seniors’ meetings, made a mess of the shelves, and spent far too much time in the men’s room. Still, I loved the library. I loved books. I especially loved plump, berry-scented Miss Kittle.

    A few weeks before we left for the desert, Miss Kittle surprised me by calling out my name when I walked through the library doors. “Wolf Truly!”

    There was something different about Miss Kittle—her cheeks were pinker and her lips were glossed and her thick dark hair fell in waves over her shoulders. By the look of her face I wasn’t in trouble, which confused me.

    “I have something for you, Wolf,” she said. Miss Kittle had never spoken directly to me before.


    “I heard you were moving to Santa Sophia.”

    Her eyes were even prettier up close. “My aunt Kriket lives there,” I said.

    “That’s where I’m from,” Miss Kittle said. “My father still lives there. I visit every summer.”

    “California’s a long way from Michigan.” My cheeks were hot.

    “I had to move up here to help take care of my grandmother. I miss the desert.”

    “I’ll miss winter.”

    “Ah!” she said, raising her index finger. Then she reached beneath the counter and drew out a large, heavy book. “You won’t have to miss winter.”

    “I won’t?”

    “You’ll have the mountain,” she said, passing me the hefty book. “The Mountain in the Desert.”

    The moment I glimpsed the photograph on the cover—a helicopter shot of the pine-rimmed granite peak—I knew that mountain contained my destiny. The details leaped from the pages like some 3-D déjà vu: ten thousand feet at the summit; mother of the transverse mountain ranges; hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness; hunting ground of the Agua Caliente band of Native Americans; habitat of bighorn sheep, mountain lions, rattlesnakes; precipitation ten times higher than what falls in the desert below; torrential rains in spring and fall, blizzards in winter. It was a place I’d never heard of but felt that I’d already been.

    “You have to climb to the peak,” Miss Kittle said.

    “That looks pretty high.”

    “You take the tram most of the way,” she said, turning to the back of the book and pointing to a full-page photograph. “The ride up is almost vertical. Look.”

    It was.

    “This tramcar takes you from the Desert Station—the climate of Mexico—to the Mountain Station—the climate of northern Canada—in less than twenty minutes. Palms to pines.”

    “Cool,” I said.

    “You can climb to the peak from there. I only made it once,” she confessed. “It was cloudy.”

    “Too bad.”

    “Maybe I’ll try again when I’m in Palm Springs this summer to visit my father,” she said.

    “You should.”

    “Maybe I’ll see if you and your dad want to come with me. Frankie—right?” She blushed.

    Oh no, I thought. Frankie never came into the library, so I couldn’t imagine where the two had met. “Frankie. That’s right,” I said.

    “Do you know where in Santa Sophia your aunt lives?”

    “Verdi Village,” I said, remembering what Frankie told me.

    “Sounds familiar. I think it’s gated.”

    I knew nothing about gates.

    “Most of the gated places have golf.”

    VERDI VILLAGE did not have golf. Or gates. Or shimmering pools. Or tennis courts. Or decorative fountains. Or paved roads for that matter. Santa Sophia was a tidy desert town consisting of mostly guarded, affluent communities. But past the mission-style shopping malls, and beyond the fuchsia bougainvillea and the median beds of white aggregate and flowering cacti, and over the abandoned train tracks, thousands populated the thrice-foreclosed-upon Verdi Village mobile home development that bled out over two square miles of hard-baked, treeless earth.

    The original double-wide, pitch-roofed aluminum trailers were run-down, but at least they still had electricity and running water, unlike the second strata of mobile housing grown from the seeds of Airstream and Coachmen and Four Winds. Past that, the vagabonds had erected a haphazard crust of shacks and shanties, shelter for economic refugees, the mentally ill, and bikers. Locals called the place Tin Town.

    In those dangerous narrows grew children who knew too much too young but, sadly, always seemed to learn too little too late. It was hot as hell in Tin Town—it set the most records in the state for triple-digit temperatures. I can still smell the unwashed bodies and twice-fried sausage, cigarette smoke and cat shit; and I can hear the discontent like bad radio reception. But mostly I can feel it—the wind, constant through the San Gorgonio Pass, polishing the earth and nourishing the groves of wind turbines along the desert roads.

    You can see those ribbons of straight white stalks from eight thousand feet up the mountain. It’s a hell of a view.

  • Meet the Author

    Lori Lansens is the author of Rush Home Road, which was translated into eight languages and published in eleven countries, and The Girls, which was sold in thirteen territories and featured as a book club pick by Richard & Judy in the UK. She was born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, and now makes her home in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

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    The Mountain Story 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
    katz27 More than 1 year ago
    This an excellent book of survival. I loved the intertwining stories and could not put it down. I read the 250 nook book in a 24 hour time frame. I loved each and every one of the characters on the mountain by the end of the book. It was such a joy to see Wolf mature with his and nurturing skills, something he'd never experienced in his life. And absolute wonderful book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It kept me involved and interested in the characters Good writing good story good characters I felt like I was right there with them
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago