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Friday, October 30, 2015

Reviews Archive - Lori Lansens and "The Mountain Story"

Lori Lansens is another Canadian author whose books I always look forward to reading.  Here's my review of her latest novel which was released earlier this year; I’ve also added brief descriptions of her other three novels.

Review of The Mountain Story
4 Stars

Having read and enjoyed Lori Lansens’ three earlier novels, I looked forward to this one. I was not disappointed. It’s a great read.

The novel is written as a letter from Wolf Truly to his college-bound son. He tells his son the full story of being lost for five days on a mountain ledge high above Palm Springs, California: “Five days in the freezing cold without food or water or shelter. . . . I was with three strangers . . . not everyone survived” (1).

What follows is a man versus nature adventure story as Wolf and the three Devine women (Nola, Bridget and Vonn) battle hunger, thirst, hypothermia, frostbite and wildlife. But the book is also a character study; via flashbacks, we learn about Wolf’s life and why he made the decision to go to the mountain that fateful day. His character and the personalities of the three women are gradually developed. By the end, Wolf knows the women intimately, and they learn things about each other they didn’t previously know.

There is a great deal of suspense. The situation of the four hikers becomes more and more dire. And from the book’s cover (“Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors”) we know one will die. Which one? Will it be Nola, the injured grandmother; Bridget, the ever-panicking, “dangerously lean” blonde; or Vonn, the teenager who goes hiking in flip flops? We know only that Wolf will survive since he is the narrator. His survival, however, is ironic since he tells his son that “on that cool, grey afternoon, I had decided to hike to a spot called Angel’s Peak to jump to my death” (3).

Wolf tells his son, “What happened up there changed my life” (1). It is this story of rebirth that is the added dimension. Almost immediately after meeting the women, Wolf says, “That’s when I noticed that my despair . . . was gone . . . It was like some switch had been flipped off, or rather, on” (52). He is reborn with a new mission: to bring everyone back to safety. Eventually, he comes to think of the three as “A blessing of Devines” (270). And it is not only Wolf who is reborn. There are tensions among the Devine women, especially Bridget and Vonn. Their experiences on the mountain, however, rekindle their love for each other and bonds are restored. Vonn, for example, “completely [rewrites] the story of their difficult past” (349).

This book is different from Lansens’ other novels; this is the only one that has a male protagonist and narrator. It is like her other books in that it presents an interesting plot, fully realized characters, and insight into life.

Rush Home Road
Lansens’ first novel is “set within the black community of southwestern Ontario.  Addy, Lansens's central character, is an elderly black woman who was raised in a settlement founded by fugitive slaves, the fictional village of Rushholme, and now lives in a trailer park near Chatham.  When the mother of a five-year-old neighbour girl named Sharla runs off, Addy becomes the girl's caregiver.  Her young charge helps give Addy the will to live, and also inspires a mental journey of bittersweet remembrance back through a tragic life filled with rape, racism, murder, and the death of her own children” (

The Girls
“In 29 years, Rose Darlen has never spent a moment apart from her twin sister, Ruby.  She has never gone for a solitary walk or had a private conversation.  Yet, in all that time, she has never once looked into Ruby's eyes.  Joined at the head, "The Girls" (as they are known in their small Ontario town) are the world's oldest surviving craniopagus twins.  The Girls is a fictional autobiography of the Darlen twins, mostly told by Rose but with occasional chapters by Ruby.  The stronger and more frustrated of the two, Rose longs to become a published writer but tends to conceal or distort disturbing incidents from their shared past.  Ruby, by contrast, tells it like it is, but is much more accepting of their intertwined fate. (Ruby is also the prettier twin, and one of the most poignant and shocking scenes in the novel is Rose's account of her--or rather their--first sexual experience.)  As Rose and Ruby describe their relatively sheltered childhood, rocky adolescence, and tentative experiments with love, the interplay between these two distinct voices heightens the dramatic tension of what's to come” (

The Wife’s Tale
"Mary Gooch is a typical Lansens protagonist – damaged, alienated, and resourceful, and her road to self-actualization is blocked by a box-store-sized stack of obstacles both external and internal.  Chief among those obstacles is Mary’s weight, now topping the 300-pound mark on the eve of her 25th wedding anniversary.  Lying naked in her nearly dark bedroom, waiting for her truck-driver husband Jimmy to come home, Mary gazes into the mirror, and sees a body “so gilded with fat that hardly a bone from her skeleton could insinuate itself in her reflection.”  Mary has tried every diet and life resolution to shed her excess weight, but an irresistible hunger drives her to the kitchen to binge at all hours.  Mary is stricken with hunger, but for what she can’t name or define – food makes do as a substitute.  When Jimmy fails to return home that night or the next day for the couple’s anniversary party, Mary’s sad but predictable life is knocked off its moorings.  The disappearance is soon explained by a vague letter from Jimmy, who has gone off to parts unknown to find “some time to think.”  He promises to contact Mary eventually and informs her that he’s left the $25,000 he won from a scratch lottery ticket in their shared account.  The stage is set for Mary, who barely knows how to use a bank card and has rarely set foot outside her small Ontario town, to embark on a journey both literal and spiritual.  She travels to Toronto in search of Jimmy and then flies to Los Angeles, where his mother lives and where Mary meets a cast of misfits, searchers, and unlikely guides and friends.  Mary’s mission to find her husband may be thwarted time and time again as the novel builds to a satisfying climax, but in the process she picks up a lifetime of lessons about her strengths and limitations" (