Tag Archives: Utah

The Mountain Between Us

 

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US

by CHARLES MARTIN

 

Broadway Books | 2010
Paperback: 331 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307-59249-1
Genre: Fiction/Survival/Adventure
Review Source: Purchased

★★★☆☆

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We climbed into the [small] plane. . .Two minutes later we were airborne and climbing. . . [Look out the window.] The High Uintas Wilderness – the largest east to west mountain range on the continent. . . [E]ver seen the movie Jeremiah Johnson? . . .That’s where filmed it.

Scout_Plane

 [Grover] coughed. . .grunted. . .grabbed his chest. . .

Then, as if he’d done it a thousand times, he pancaked the plane against the mountain.

olympic-mountains

My friend had just finished reading the book The Mountain Between Us and recommended it.  Our “cotton-head” gang of old friends will be heading to the theater to view the movie and she thought we should first read the book. I rated this 4 out of 5 stars but this rating came with mental adjustments from what I expected and what I found between the covers.

Adventure/survival stories snag my attention every time. If they involve struggling in snow and ice, all the better. I was raised and played in the mighty Adirondacks and loved the dead of winter. So I want to clear up something right away – it would be impossible in the real world for these two to have survived.

I suspended my hopes for a heart pounding adventure as I smelled a contrived story ahead. Foregoing expectations of something like Jon Krakauer’s Into The WildI settled down and found the story entertaining in its own way.

flight cancelledAshley Knox, a magazine writer, strolled by Dr. Ben Payne, an emergency room trauma surgeon, in the airport and I knew right away where all this was headed. Pretty woman meets married but separated doctor.  When I finished the book, I was mostly right with my preconceived ideas.

A big bad storm of epic size is bearing down on the western states. Commercial aircraft are unable to de-ice their planes and cancelled all outgoing flights. Dr. Ben Payne has numerous surgeries to perform the next day and needs to leave town. He arranges a flight out with an elderly charter plane pilot. Moments before they leave, Ben sweet talks the pilot into taking a second passenger – the sweet young thing he had been eyeballing in the airport. Ashley had confided to Ben that she was to be married in a couple of days and needed to fly out immediately for a wedding rehearsal.

Conveniently as it turns out, the doctor had attended a medical conference and traveled with his backpacking gear. Great care was taken to detail what was in that backpack. The crusty old pilot, while preparing the plane for flight, takes the time to tell them he stores a sleeping bag under his seat and keeps a fishing pole and hunting bow with arrows on the plane at all times.

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Moments before Grover has his fatal heart attack, he tells them that this is the largest god-forsaken wilderness in America. Suddenly, with the pilot dead, the broken plane nearly invisible in the snow, a non-functioning locator beacon, no flight plan filed, and no record of the passengers aboard the plane, the survivors must fend for themselves with nothing more than a bag of gorp for food.

Ashley is severely injured in the crash. She is bleeding profusely from several lacerations and sports a maligned leg caused by a broken femur. Ben has broken numerous ribs and a deflated lung and a history of breathing issues at high  altitude. Disregarding his own problems, he sets Ashley’s broken leg and splints it with parts from the plane. He finds Grover’s fishing gear and sews up her wounds.

The action now slows down and leaves the two survivors with only two options. Stay where they are huddled in the fuselage, no one knows they’re there.  Or head out into the unknown wilderness in a blizzard hoping to find civilization and food.

Ben fashions a sled for Ashley out of a broken wing. He gathers all the survival goodies stored on the plane and stuffs them into the sled with Ashley and heads out in thigh deep snow pulling the sled with a harness created from plane parts strapped over his broken chest. For a month he drags Ashley up and over mountains, across rivers, through subzero weather and frequent snow storms.

Amid the swirling snow, sub-zero temperatures, harsh terrain, and wildlife, Ben assumes the role of porter, doctor, hunter, and guide. Ashley, incapacitated by injuries, can offer little help but her upbeat spirit and sense of humor offers levity in the bleak story. Their repartee is a relief to the danger of the situation. The pilot’s Jack Russell Terrier has also survived the crash and his indomitable personality makes him my favorite character.

Ben trudges hour by hour through the snow thinking of his wife and their last argument that has kept them apart.  When settled for the day, he whips out his voice recorder and dictates long conversations about his day, difficult childhood and of the deep abiding love he feels for her to this very day.

The conversations between Ashley and Ben are interesting and it is easy to see that neither of them will ever forget the strength of character and compassion each exhibited through starvation, pain and the isolation of the wilderness.

There’s a surprise ending.  Sorry no hints. I didn’t see it coming.

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The Never-Open Desert Diner

Never-Open-Desert Diner3

The Never-Open Desert Diner

by James Anderson

(originally published by Caravel Books in 2015)

Crown | March 2016
Paperback: 304 pages (978–1-101-90652-1)
Genre: Fiction/Utah/

ARC: Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★☆

desert road polaroidThe highway ahead lolled in sunlight.

rte 117It was mine and it made me happy. It didn’t bother me that it was mine because no one else wanted it.

Ben Jones
Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service

This gem has been sitting on my to-read shelf and from the minute I opened the cover and read the first few pages I couldn’t stop reading.

Ben Jones, a 38-year old independent truck driver, is our narrator and he begins his story on the road from the cab of his sixteen wheeler. Ben’s delivery route is on Hwy 117, a remote 100 mile stretch of high desert that dead-ends against a mesa just outside of an old coal mining town. Like the road itself, the inhabitants of Hwy 117 have dead-ended there by choice burrowing into a solitary existence with no desire for interference or contact with the outside world. Like a high-stakes poker game they keep the reasons they are there to themselves and repel interference from the barrel end of a gun.

I knew everyone of them, though the sum total of every word ever exchanged between us might not equal what could be squeezed on the back of a drugstore postcard…Conversation in the high desert was parceled out like water and often with less enthusiasm, each drop cherished for the life it represented.

There’s the side characters that make you smile at there comments and cringe at their lives.  Meet John the Preach and owner of the True Value and the First Church of the Desert Cross. Spring through fall, John walks up and down Hwy 117 carrying a heavy 10 foot tall wooden cross. There’s the Lacey brothers, Fergus and Duncan, living in two sand-scoured red railroad boxcars mysteriously set in the desert sand. There’s the pregnant homeless teenage waitress, Ginny, determined to dig herself out of an undeserved tragic life.

Ben’s life is no less isolated than the misfits, lonely cattle ranchers and hermits on Hwy 117; the only difference is his life is on wheels and the others hide in the sagebrush and gullies. Abandoned on an Indian Reservation wrapped in an old red Indian blanket, shuffled through foster homes until finally adopted by an elderly couple. The search for his birth parents ended on the porch of the health clinic when a former nurses aide remembered seeing a young Jewish social worker from a local mental health facility there the morning he was found.  Being a Jewish Indian lent to a lonely and bullied life growing up. A brief rough patch with alcohol and violence led him to the desert to escape further digression into a wasted life.

Finding his calling on Hwy 117 as friend and trucker made him happier than any other time in his life. Sadly, his life on the road is threatened as so many of his customers owe him money that he now faces the loss of his truck through bankruptcy. As he stresses over his money woes, Ben’s personal life changes overnight with a discovery and an unexpected chance at true love.

We ride shotgun with Ben and our first stop is a delivery behind the Oasis Diner, long closed and now known to locals as the Never-Open Desert Diner. Young Walt and Bernice Butterfield ran a very successful diner right up until the day Walt was away and Bernice was assaulted by four men. Bernice never recovered from the assault and spent her days sitting at the same table in the corner staring into the distance at her lost future.  After Bernice died Walt closed the diner to the public but keeps it alive inside and out- spit polished and shiny. Walt, now 79 years-old is still strong and sturdy. Known for his take-no-prisoners attitude, violent temper and his sledge hammer fists solution to perceived slights now spends his days in a Quonset hut with his vast motorcycle collection. Walt figures prominently in Ben’s story.

Stopping to relieve himself along the highway, Ben discovers an old road he has never spotted before. Seeking privacy he wanders down the road to discover one abandoned house in a maze of lots and roads from an undeveloped housing project. He wanders over and relieves himself on the house as he peers curiously into a window. A woman’s face is peering out at him startling him.  He makes a hasty retreat.

Unable to forget her face, Ben chances a second visit to the abandoned house to find the woman and apologize for watering her wall. Peering in a window to see if she is still there, Ben spots a naked Claire Tichnor playing a stringless and bowless cello with intense concentration. This time he is greeted on the porch by a gun barrel and snarl. Over time these two form a complicated love relationship. Clair is hiding from her husband and harbors a dark secret.

Mysterious encounters with strangers befall Ben that ultimately involve Clair and Walt Butterfield and lead Ben into potential legal trouble with the local police. And along the way, Ben takes his sixteen wheeler into areas of rough desert that no truck has gone before.

My thoughts
I was surprised to learn the book was highly praised in major review sources such as the Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Review when it first appeared in 2015 but received tepid marketing by the original publisher.  Crown Publishing has given it a second chance at success in 2016 .

Some book reviews from sources such as Goodreads.com have disliked the stark style of writing reminiscent of Robert Parker’s character Spenser. Personally I loved it. It felt true to the desert setting. In a land of dry sand and blistering heat you wouldn’t want to waste your breath trying to explain yourself.

The prose was so well done that I felt I could taste the blowing sand and feel the scorching sun blinding me.  The heavy rains and flooding arroyos reminded me vividly of my flooded home in west Texas years ago.

In conclusion, I would recommend the book highly.  I’ll leave you with part of the author’s dedication.  If you like the following authors grab a copy of this book for your next vacation or business trip.

Dedicated in memoriam to the following authors for creating characters who became some of the best friends I’ve ever had, real or imaginary:

John D. MacDonald for Travis McGee
Robert B. Parker for Spenser
Stephen J. Cannell for James Rockford.

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