The Mountain Between Us
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I read the brief Personal Note to the Reader bio at the back before I started the novel so I was then acutely aware from the Prelude of the strong similarities to the author's life. I'm a believer in "write what you know" and to that would add "read what you don't know". So I'm not finding fault - just making an observation. Nor do I fault him for letting his maleness show through so obviously in his observations of females - among other things. If you can't write gender neutrally (and probably few can) then write what you are. If I were finding fault in anything it would be in the significantly simplistic language and the repetitive elements.
While we have had some monthly book club selections from the Young Adult Fiction genre such as Twilight and Hunger Games, language in those books somehow felt more mature than in Mountain. I could hypothesize that sophomoric language paired with a plot that includes actual sophomores might not seem as juvenile as using simple words in a plot about adults. However, this was intended to be a light and breezy summertime read - and that it is. Being set in the snowy mountains is a nice diversion from a hot, Texas summer. Along with the simple wording Martin includes more blatantly obvious foreshadowing than Romeo and Juliet. He also uses lots of allusion - which is fun because they are very modern references.
Although I list several things below that annoyed me about the book - overall it was enjoyable, not as predictable as I thought it would be, and time I do not regret spending with this book. I read the hard cover book (used for page refs. below) and also heard the audio CDs. I thoroughly enjoyed the reader's voice - it sounded very much like I imagined Ben's voice would sound.
On a scale of 1 - 5:
Sex - One scene of a husband remembering seeing his wife in the shower (more about the conversation than visual description) (p. 218) A couple of mentions of naked female bodies but more factual than sexual.
Religion - I do not recall a single reference to religion where certainly there was plenty of time and cause for reflection on a higher power.
Gruesome - Factual references to hunting and broken bones could be gruesome to some but it was all very minor and mostly necessary.
Suspense - There was more suspense than it seemed. Not in the manner of someone jumping out from behind trees but in plot twists that might surprise some more than others.
Morality - Although trapped with a woman for almost a month, Ben maintains a doctor/patient relationship with Ashley. Ben had really high morals but I count off one point because he didn't always utilize full disclosure.
In Chapter 5 we have some medical procedures described. Although the language is still simple - I found it difficult to envision. It almost made my head spin trying to reconcile the plane that had been so small the two passengers were sitting "hip to hip" yet post-crash had room for the doc to maneuver around and lay out a patient.
In Chapter 6 I became aware that the italicized print was meant to indicate the character talking into a voice recorder. At first I thought it indicated insight into his thoughts or maybe a delusional state. The Prelude (isn't that the musical equivalent of a Prologue) was all in italics but I wasn't sure what was going on. Then the actual first chapter starts with a subtitle of 12 hours earlier. At that time the same character speaks into the recorder and it is not italicized - so after looking back at it my post-Chapter 6 ideas about italics still leave me a bit uncertain.
Around Chapter 17 the editing started to fall apart. After the initial plane crash the main character could not remember the dog's name. Then suddenly we read the dog's name. Since it is first person narrative we assume Ben has remembered the name. But in the next chapter Ben is speaking to the dog's owner and admits he can't remember the dog's name. In chapter 19 the narrator again refers to the dog by name - with no acknowledgement that he has remembered it. (At the end of the book I realize that the name they had been calling the dog wasn't the actual name. But I never noticed them deciding to call it the new name - maybe I just wasn't an attentive reader at that point. Regardless, it was rather confusing.)
Early on he had figured out that Ashley liked joking, sarcastic answers to take her mind off their situation. At the end of Chapter 19 he continues with the style. But then a few chapters later he didn't seem to know about the tactic.
At the beginning of Chapter 20 Ben is making a recording for his wife. The fourth line starts with "Don't know how far we'll get, ..." (p. 138) and then the sixth line says, "I don't know how far we'll get...". A reader could assume that he's just rambling into a tape recorder without a script so it is normal to repeat yourself. But that hasn't been his style up to now - so I wondered if it was supposed to indicate diminishing mental capacity. If it was, I would've appreciated him catching it himself and commenting on how fuzzy his brain was. I wound up putting it as a mark in the bad editing column.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, there was one more repetition on p. 308 when Ben tells us he put a marble floor in Rachel's house to keep it cool in the summer. Ten pages later he again tells us about the marble floor to combat the summer heat.
Also in the bad editing column, Ashley broke her left leg (check). When they had to walk Ben put her on his right side so her bad leg was between them (check). "Ashley wrapped her right arm around my neck and clung to my right hand with hers..." (p. 188). Imagine being Ashley with Ben on your left (since you are on his right) - which arm would you wrap around his neck? Someone made a pencil correction from "right" to "left" in the library copy I borrowed.
In Chapter 22 he's walking and "fell to midchest" a "couple of times" (p. 147). Wait - he made himself some snowshoes previously - why isn't he using them? Several pages later - he does use them. I also found it strange that we'd had a pretty consistent pattern of alternating between real life and recording but in this chapter Ben and Ashley have a significant conversation about the recorder, then he stops using it for quite a while - or we don't hear of it. And Ben and Grover had a conversation about having two GPS - but after the crash it seems there was only mention of one.
I was surprised at how quickly the time passed - before I knew it we were two weeks in. The pace made it very enjoyable and not at all tedious as some stranded-themed books tend to be.
I thought Ashley was a bit too intuitive. When Ben used his father's expression, "Why don't you spit in one hand and wish in the other and see which one gets full the quickest." (p. 168) Ashley commented "sounds like a rough relationship" (p. 168). Personally I thought every dad had sayings like that. When my children were young and complained of being thirsty their dad would reply, "I'm Friday, come over Saturday and we'll have a Sunday". My dad has sayings. My husband has plenty of sayings he learned from his dad, etc. Of course, we know that indeed it was a rough relationship but based on one line I don't think she should know that.
A few things bothered me in this book. Like how did Ben know all the terminology of bow hunting. In the beginning when Grover is practicing, Ben never says he has done any shooting. Every time he "nocked an arrow" I thought to myself that I thought it should be "notched". I did a few rounds of archery at scout camp and such so I figure I have average common knowledge. I even asked my husband who knows a little about a lot and has made bows and arrows for our son's group - he didn't know what it was called. And who knew a grown moose is a cow and a baby a calf?
Around the middle of the book Ben spent some time admiring Ashley's womanly scent. This seemed unrealistic to me because they'd been without a shower for so long (about 1 1/2 weeks). On page 230 when Ben helps the injured Ashley out of a bath she says, "I'm told that guys are visual. Seeing naked women excites them. So, how're you doing with all this?". He assures her he's fine with what I thought was a pretty sound, solid explanation. But less than half a page later she asks (again) "So how are you doing with all this? Is being this close to me difficult for you?" (p. 231) Wow! Really? That just took Ashley down a notch in my book.
Somewhere early in the book I had a hunch about Rachel - maybe picked up on a hint. Near the end he said something that really did seem to give it away. But the closer i got to the end, the more I waffled about my guess. That was a fun twist at the end.
What did you think about the arrow that appeared in the sky from the crossing planes? Why didn't Ben tell Ashley about it?
When did you start to suspect Ben and Rachel were not all sunshine and roses as he initially led us to believe?
Did you wonder why Ben took three trips to move everything to the big house instead of moving Ashley to the little cabin?
What did you think was the true situations with Rachel? What hints or info led you to that conclusion?
Why do you think the author described Ben setting snares and then he never caught anything in them?
How would the adventure have been different if Ben and Ashley were a married couple?
(thanks to one of my book club friends for this question)
Tell about a time when you ignored a little voice in your head. How did things turn out for you?
Ben described himself as broken in many pieces. Was he even ready for a relationship?
Did Ashley make a wise decision in the end?
Discuss the symbolism of the mountains throughout the book.
Meet at Starbucks in tribute to Ben and Ashley's love of good coffee and wishes for Starbucks.
Serve double cheeseburgers and fries (p. 299).