Monday, December 4, 2017

Charles Martin - The Mountain Between Us

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?

Comment: I got interested in this book before realizing it would be turned into a movie. I guess I can understand how this would appeal in a movie theater  - I'm sure lots of things will be changed too - but to be completely honest the story felt quite underdone.

In this story we meet doctor Ben and writer/journalist Ashley when they first see each other in an airport. The flights are being cancelled and postponed continuously due to the bad weather so when Ben sees the sign for private flights in a small aircraft, he decides to ask Ashley if she wants to join him. Both have important deadlines in their lives - Ben's work as a surgeon and Ashley's wedding - so they agree to go with expert pilot Grover.
The problem happens because Grover has a heart attack mid air and although he can make things in a way that the end isn't as serious as it could, they still suffer a crash and Grover, sadly, dies. Now Ben and Ashley are alone with Grover's dog and the snow and the wild nature...will they be rescued on time to save their lives?

I admit I had some expectations about this book. I expected a love story among adversity done in a way that would leave no room for doubt about the commitment of the two protagonists in saving themselves. The problem, for me, was the fact the story doesn't properly focus on these things as much as it did on Ben's issues and feelings...

I actually liked this idea Ben is the main focus of the story and he is the narrator. Well, at least at first, because as the story moved along it was more and more restrictive to only have Ben's POV and not Ashely's as well. My conclusion is that the emotional journey we were supposed to follow is Ben's and ok, this is fair, but terribly limitative! Obviously, not having a more dramatic relationship between Ashley and Ben makes this not a real romance story but one where emotional redemption is the main feature and, sadly for me, this meant the book lost a lot of the impact it could have had. I was hoping to see how the crash situation would affect the two of them, how they would react (despite the injuries), how they would come together and deal with the fact there were other people in their romantic lives... I wanted to be convinced of their developing relationship despite the adrenaline wasn't so.

Obviously, the key point here is Ben's emotional journey. He has some things to deal with, things we start understanding the more the story moves along because of the italic sections where we have Ben's monologues about his life, his past, his family... I get this but I really thought we would be getting a romance and not a personal description about the things we wish we could have said.
The situations described, when it came to the survival of the main characters, were quite vivid and impressive but slightly difficult to imagine. I suppose the movie will help with this detail.

I feel the reader is also a little bit "under serviced" by not having more on Ashley. I feel Ben's character is more developed and worked on - thanks to being the narrator - but Ashley just seems to be an extra, only useful to explain why Ben changes his thoughts and decides to be a different person somehow. I think Ashley isn't a good enough character and we only get some glimpses of her personality...sure this is interesting but not enough, all things considered.
This also means the romance isn't believable. Well, it wasn't for me. I do understand the message and why the story is told the way it is but I wanted the relationship between Ben and Ashley to feel real and strong but the end just...well, again I go back to the word "impact" because I felt the end had none and the supposed message we get when the book ends is kind of lost because the romance didn't feel well done. It seemed to have a promising start but it didn't end up in anything at the end...

All things considered, this book has its good elements, I liked reading it but when I turned the last page I was left wondering what I could do to make it more to my tastes so... it's not bad but not amazing either.
Grade: 6/10

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