The Mountain Story: A Novel

The Mountain Story: A Novel

by Lori Lansens

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476786605
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/12/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 377,609
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

The Mountain Story

  • BEFORE

    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.”

    “Okay.”

    “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.

    “Okay.”

    “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.

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Mountain Story includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lori Lansens. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    Introduction

    The Mountain Story takes the form of a letter that Wolf Truly is writing to his college-bound son, Danny. Until now, all Wolf has told Danny is that he was lost with three strangers on the mountain for five days, and not all of them survived. Now, Wolf decides he owes his son the full truth. In this harrowing tale of survival, Wolf Truly recounts his journey from his fateful decision to kill himself to his willful determination to come down the mountain alive.

    After Wolf’s best friend, Byrd, has a tragic accident on the mountain, and his father goes to jail, Wolf decides he has nothing left to live for. Wolf goes up the cable car on his eighteenth birthday and the anniversary of Byrd’s accident, intending to jump from Angel’s Peak, a spot Byrd and he named and called their own. The cable car takes him from the hot desert of Palm Springs to a cold and brutal wilderness of the mountain in minutes. And Wolf leaves his backpack behind, thinking he will not need water or supplies where he is going. On the way up, Wolf meets Bridget, who is there with her mother and daughter. As Wolf tries to help them find Secret Lake, a spot not marked on the map, the four become lost together on the mountain. The five days that follow are full of hope, loss, injury, hypothermia, and self-revelation. The Mountain Story is tense and gripping, with many twists along the way.

    Discussion Questions

    1. In the introduction to the story, Wolf tells Danny that “to understand about the mountain, you need to know what came before” (page 1). Discuss what Wolf meant by this—why is the background so important to the story?

    2. Even though Wolf splits the story up according to the five days on the mountain, he often goes back in time to think about “all the befores and afters that had brought me to that moment” (page 16), filling in details about his time growing up and his life in California. Consider and discuss how this framework affected your reading experience.

    3. Wolf notices each of the three women on the tram before he actually meets them. How do his observations and assumptions line up with how they actually are when he gets to know them?

    4. Right before they meet on the mountain, Nola’s yellow canteen catches Wolf’s eye and brings back memories of his time with Byrd. Discuss the significance of the yellow canteens throughout the story. Why does seeing it again affect Wolf so much?

    5. Wolf admits that he led the women through the woods, thinking he knew the way back to the Mountain Station. Why do you think he was confident for so long about the direction, despite the unfamiliar surroundings?

    6. The wind is a powerful presence on the mountain, and the characters are constantly trying to interpret the sounds they hear. Discuss the significance of the wind in the story, and how it affects not only the group’s situation, but also their psyches over the course of the five days.

    7. After the group’s initial fall on the first day, Wolf realizes that his “despair, which had weighed [him] down since Byrd’s accident and been deepened by Frankie’s imprisonment, was gone. ...It was like some switch had been flipped off, or rather, on” (page 45). Why do you think Wolf’s despair goes away at this moment?

    8. We hear two different versions of the story about Jack Mazlo, the hiker who tried to hike down the tramline trail. In Byrd’s version, Jack lives to tell the tale and sits crooked at a coffee shop; but Nola tells Wolf that Jack actually died on his descent, and was never rescued. What is the significance of the story for the group? Why is Wolf so affected when he learns the truth about Jack?

    9. While on the mountain, the characters tell stories to each other. Nola reveals one of her biggest regrets—burning down Laura Dorrie’s house in high school. What are some of the other things the characters reveal to each other? How do these revelations affect their relationships?

    10. Nola tells the others that “when you get older you think of sadness in a different way” (page 157). What does she mean by this? Do you think Wolf experiences this change as he remembers the mountain story to tell his son?

    11. Vonn asks Wolf if he believes in fate—“if being here, on the mountain, right now, stopped you from doing something else, would you see that as a sign that you were not meant to do that thing?” (page 160). Consider the role of fate in the novel and find moments in the story when fate intervenes with a character’s life.

    12. For most of the story, it seems as though Byrd died in the accident, but then we find out that he was in a coma. Why do you think Wolf decides to kill himself when he knows Byrd may not be dead?

    13. All four of the characters—Wolf, Nola, Bridget, and Vonn—are transformed in some way during their time on the mountain together. Discuss how each of them grows or changes in the five days they are lost. In what ways are they each different at the end of the story?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Wolf writes his story as a letter to his son, Danny—but we never get to hear how Danny reacts. Imagine how Danny would react to the revelations he learns from the story, and write a letter from Danny to his father expressing that reaction. Share and discuss your letter with the group.

    2. Choose a character and write a scene from his or her perspective, instead of Wolf’s. How do the Devine women see Wolf? Or how does Frankie view his life in California?

    A Conversation with Lori Lansens

    You’ve had some experience in the California wilderness. Have you always loved the outdoors?

    My husband and I moved from downtown Toronto to California with our two young children nearly ten years ago. We made our home in a canyon in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains, where we share our backyard with mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. We live in the wilderness.

    A few years ago a mountain lion killed a deer in our backyard. The lion left a hind leg, a front leg, tufts of fur, and bits of tissue strewn about the lawn. I’d heard the struggle in the middle of the night, and when I looked out the window I could make out their forms in the darkness, the limp deer, the chuffing lion. A few other neighbors said they’d glimpsed the lion that week and wondered if it was the female that had given birth at a nearby ranch. Unlikely things happen in the wild.

    We also have a bobcat that routinely visits our yard. My children think the animal looks cool and ancient. He does. But we still have to scare him off when he lounges on the rock in the shade of the eucalyptus. The coyotes around here are defiant, if not downright aggressive. More than once, in daylight, they’ve come up to the glass in the patio door and looked inside the house.

    My environment puts me in a state of hyper-awareness and heightened appreciation. Living in the mountains, I learned to love and fear nature in equal measure.

    Did you decide to write The Mountain Story after your first visit to Mount San Jacinto? Or did the characters come first?

    The characters came first.

    Not long after we moved to the canyon, two local high school students, one a neighbor in our community, committed suicide. I only knew the neighbor, and not well, but their deaths preoccupied me, and drew me into my past and memories of dark days and tragic souls. Those teenagers were always in my thoughts, and along with my sorrow for them was fear for my own children, and for the teenage children of my friends. The character of Wolf came from that place, fully formed, and so did the survival aspect of the story, and so did Frankie, the damaged father.

    The trio of Devines has been stepping out from behind the curtain for some time. They’re drawn from life, some from my past, but most from my present, women who’ve piqued my curiosity. I wanted to explore their family dynamics in this focused way on the mountain.

    I had the characters’ relationships roughed out, and the ending, just as it is now, was decided, but I didn’t have the right setting, and the setting would determine how the characters acted out their intentions. I let the survival story simmer while I went on with life.

    You had the characters and you went looking for the mountain?

    I was still working on my previous book when my husband and I went to Palm Springs the first time. When I mentioned to another mom that my kids were missing snow, she told me about Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, and about how she liked to take her children up in the tram to experience winter. When images of San Jacinto appeared on my computer screen I got excited. I had to see it. My husband worried about my vertigo and extreme motion sickness. Between the traffic and the tram I wasn’t entirely confident, either.

    We didn’t bring the kids up the first time and we didn’t make it in time for snow. I took an extra dose of motion sickness medication before we road the tram up to the mountain station at eight thousand feet. Maybe it was the thin air, or maybe it was the meds, but standing at the first lookout, I had something like a religious experience. The fragrant pines, the wind-worn rock, the miles of wilderness. It was like I’d come home.

    My husband and I set out on a short hike, following what looked like a path, but wasn’t. After a time we realized our mistake and backtracked, or so we thought. Then we scrambled over some rocks to get a photograph and just like that, we were lost. We argued about whether or not we should cry out for help—he didn’t want to—or just wait to see if we heard or saw other hikers through the trees. We weren’t very lost for very long, but neither of us showed much grace under pressure. Eventually, we heard hikers in the distance and finally found the trail. We were quiet on the drive back to the hotel later. I was already writing The Mountain Story in my head.

    What kind of research did you do to prepare for writing about the realities of being lost in the wilderness?

    I read survival stories and whatever I could about San Jacinto, and books about the Cahuilla Indians who lived in the canyons and foothills. I also surfed hikers’ blogs and birders’ sites and climbing blogs and the rescue archives. It was on a climbers’ site that I found a glossary of hiking terms and came across the word thrutching, meaning “to climb without finesse.” I love that word. It’s not in the dictionary, but it should be. I think it could be adapted for broader usage.

    By far, though, my most valuable research involved spending time on the mountain, being there and experiencing it. I sometimes went alone, never straying far from the station, and several times over the years I hiked with Matt Jordon, a member of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit. He took me much farther than I could have gone on my own. I asked him questions, checked in with him to make sure that certain aspects of my story were believable. He was patient and enormously helpful and kept me from getting lost figuratively, too.

    The novel explores the complicated relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. Did you always conceive of it that way?

    The characters came as a package. In the case of the Devines, I wanted to explore those familial relationships stripped of all intentions except survival. I wanted to look at motherhood in an elemental way.

    In Wolf’s case, it’s the accumulated damage from years of paternal neglect that weighed him down, but Frankie made Wolf strong in some ways, too, and compassionate. Wolf’s close and loving relationship with Danny is informed by his lack of a relationship with his own father.

    Why did you decide to frame the story as a letter to Danny? Why does Wolf choose now to tell him what happened on the mountain?

    The story is really a confession. Wolf could never tell Danny in person because he couldn’t trust himself to tell the truth. It’s also a complex story where understanding the past is critical. Wolf needed to write it out to make sense of it. A letter is a private affair, and Wolf’s confession is not intended for public consumption.

    Danny is a college student, on his own for the first time. There is physical distance between father and son. Seeing Danny flying solo prompts Wolf’s decision to finally tell him what happened on the mountain. It’s not lost on Wolf, that in revealing his long-held secret, he’s offering his child a cautionary tale about risks and boundaries.

    Did you ever consider a final chapter addressing Danny’s reaction to the letter?

    I wanted to let the truth sit with Danny, the way a story does with a reader.

    All of your characters keep secrets, many of which are revealed on the mountain. Why do you think people tell the truth when their lives are at risk?

    Maybe it speaks to a deep desire to be known and accepted, sins and all, even in our final moments.

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    The Mountain Story 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
    Scorn9 More than 1 year ago
    The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens This action/adventure novel hits a home run in this genre and is a must read for those wanting a fast paced, adventure novel! Normally, these types of books aren't my thing but for whatever reason this book stuck with me and I could not put it down. I'm slightly annoyed I didn't pick this book up early, because it was a fantastic read, leaving me to believe I absolutely need more Lori Lansens in my life. This book isn't just a survive out in the wilderness story - it has heart, a plot, and lots of backstory. There are definitely survival aspects, but it's not just survival/wilderness porn. It's a fantastic blend of action, adventure, suspense, mystery and a splash of romance (just a tiny splash). We follow our leads throughout the story revealing truths about themselves and developing their personalities and lives. It's not cookie cutter or the norm, which is why this book is such a great read. Why is it not a five star you may ask? There were definitely some slow/boring parts for me. There were a few times I put the book down and thought I might not pick it up, but decided that I needed to. Once you get past those few boring chapters, the book keeps chugging along at it's fast pace. This book has plot twists and turns that make it interesting - you think it's going one way and then it swings in another - all while maintaining a PG/PG13 rating that I believe any reader will enjoy - not just adults, perhaps young adults too? The book isn't sensory in it's description, but it's well written that you can almost imagine yourself with the characters. I applaud Lori for writing this novel - it's a fantastic read that I'll definitely be recommending to fellow readers! Overall, this fascinating novel is a truly spectacular ride! Four out of five stars!
    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