The Mountain Between Us
By Charles Martin
Expectations: From the cover and the synopsis, I thought this book might be a sappy love story of the Nicholas Sparks variety, where something sad is or will happen but luckily having loved and lost is way better than having never loved at all. (But what about dehydration from my loss of tears, Nicholas?? WHAT ABOUT MY TEARS??)
On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her much anticipated wedding. Dr. Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is also eager to get back East for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day. When the last outgoing flight is cancelled due to a broken de-icer and a forthcoming storm, Ben finds a charter plane that can take him around the storm and drop him in Denver to catch a connection. And when the pilot says the single engine prop plane can fit one more, if barely, Ben offers the seat to Ashley knowing that she needs to get back just as urgently. And then the unthinkable happens. The pilot has a heart attack mid-flight and the plane crashes into the High Uintas Wilderness-- one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States.
Ben, who has broken ribs and Ashley, who suffers a terrible leg fracture, along with the pilot's dog, are faced with an incredibly harrowing battle to survive. Fortunately, Ben is a medical professional and avid climber (and in a lucky break, has his gear from a climb earlier in the week). With little hope for rescue, he must nurse Ashley back to health and figure out how they are going to get off the mountain, where the temperature hovers in the teens. Meanwhile, Ashley soon realizes that the very private Ben has some serious emotional wounds to heal as well. He explains to Ashley that he is separated from his beloved wife, but in a long standing tradition, he faithfully records messages for her on his voice recorder reflecting on their love affair. As Ashley eavesdrops on Ben's tender words to his estranged wife she comes to fear that when it comes to her own love story, she's just settling. And what's more: she begins to realize that the man she is really attracted to, the man she may love, is Ben.
As the days on the mountains become weeks, their survival become increasingly perilous. How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever?
Well. I finally got my emergency survival kit. I feel better for that, but putting thoughts in my head of how easily our comfortable circumstances can change into a harsh fight for survival isn't really what I was bargaining for with this book. Sappy this story is a bit, but very gritty and realistic (as far as someone who has never gone hiking or camping in the woods can tell). I was interested in the first person narration of Ben - through the device of reading the thoughts he was recording for his wife, and through regular narration, because now that I think of it, I don't really read a lot of books written in the male perspective. Ben Payne, not as emotional a narrator as I am used to, is sometimes clinical in his thoughts and reserved about his past which means he can slowly reveal his past to increase the suspense in the reader. The romance I was expecting was dominated not by Ben and Ashley's relationship, but with Ben's relationship with his wife Rachel. So much so, that I felt more invested in that relationship than in Ashley's. And I felt that Ashley had not changed all that much from her experience. So the ending lacked oomph for me, I couldn't really care that much about them. Having said all that, I think the most interesting part of this book for me was the survival aspect which is fascinating while also being a little depressing (being reminded of my mortality does that).
And huge spoiler here so skip this paragraph if you haven't read the novel - I wonder if it is just me that finds the idea that Ben keeps the idea of his wife so alive, that he records conversations to her and has her and his stillborn children entombed in the house he built for her incredibly creepy. After four years? Romantic? Maybe, if you stick "stark raving mad" in front of it. I wonder if Ashley can deal with that.
Lastly, I wanted to read this book because I heard they are making a film version with Michael Fassbender in talks for the lead. I DO WANT TO WATCH.
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