A distracted young man, Curtis, is driving along a mountain road at night. A woman flashes into his headlights, is struck by the truck, and disappears. He keeps driving.
Curtis’s single father Tom manages planting for logging in the Canadian Rockies. His teenage daughter, like his son, appears alienated from him. The children’s mother is gone. His estranged mother in law seems to live with nature almost like a witch, and his colleagues are seasonal outdoors workers.
A strong story and believably flawed characters give rise to interesting questions. If a father teaches his children to hunt, shoot and fish, is he caring for them or just getting them ready for his abandonment of them? Is physical courage in protecting your children enough? If you have to be absent for work, is it inevitable that you are emotionally absent as well, and how do you know if you are? How do we live with nature now? If you have done something bad, must it inevitably catch up with you, and how do you live before you know?
The mountains, lakes and woods inform every part of the story. The mountains aren’t straightforward and reliable though – I was reminded of Annie Dillard writing about Dead Man Mountain: “sometimes here in Virginia at sunset low clouds on the southern or northern horizon are completely invisible in the lighted sky. I only know one is there because I can see its reflection in still water”. Like Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time, which I loved (see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2015/05/24/at-hawthorn-time-melissa-harrison/), The Mountain Can Wait contains evocative and unsentimental nature writing. Swimming alone in an icy mountain lake, Tom “coasted out deeper into the lake, taking mouthfuls of the mineral-rich water and spraying it out again. It tasted like pine, like iron, a little like blood”. Like a bracing swim in a lake, this cool and sharp book is recommended.
Review by Bethan