Book Review: The Mountain Between Us

I read The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin to complete a category of my reading challenge: a book becoming a movie in 2017. The story is about Ben, a doctor, and Ashley, a journalist, who are both trying to get home after their flights are cancelled due to a blizzard. Ben convinces a charter pilot to take him and Ashley to Denver, but the pilot has a heart attack in the air and the plane crashes in the snowy mountains. Ashley is badly injured and it is up to Ben to get them from the wreckage and to safety while enduring brutal conditions and dwindling hope. It’s difficult for me to rate this due to a couple of factors, so it falls somewhere around 3.79.

What I Liked

One of the things I’m committed to is realism when it comes to physical feats. I can’t stand heroes and heroines who go through unbelievable physical peril and walk away with an arbitrary scratch on the forehead. This novel did not disappoint. The description of injuries and suffering and the misery of the conditions gave me a visceral reaction that grossed me out in a good way. When things went horribly wrong, I truly felt for the characters and wondered if they would make it to the end. It isn’t pleasant, and Martin does not hide this fact, which I appreciated as a reader and a writer.

Ben, the main character, records messages to his wife along the way and I thought it was the most compelling part of the story. I was desperate to know what had happened between them, and how it was going to be resolved. The twist in that plot line actually surprised me and moved me in a way I had not expected.

I was rooting for their survival the whole time and when I was done, I had that good clutch in my chest that released when I closed the book. (Okay, I didn’t really close it; it was on my Kindle.)

What I Didn’t Like

I feel like this is something I’ve encountered quite a bit this year, but this book was full of TELLING. There was a fair amount of errors in the copy, such as missing words and other small technical errors. As a writer, it’s hard for me to turn my biases off and read without red-penning everything as I go, but some sentences needed a little “show don’t tell” treatment. There were long stretches of dialogue with no action between and it looked like this:

“Then she said something.”

“And then he said something.”

“And then they said something.”

“And then they said other things.”

“And then I got super bored.”

Writers, do not do this. People don’t just talk without doing something. Fiddle, lean in, sit up, pace the room, anything. If you need ideas, this is a good resource. In addition, the dialogue seemed really unnatural, as if Martin’s attempt to make Ashley seem chill and quirky came across as forced and disingenuous. There’s also a line where they laughed about a joke (that wasn’t funny) for ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time, y’all. If someone laughed for ten minutes, I would be very uncomfortable.

Ben was an avid athlete, sportsman, and amateur mountain climber, so that aided in their survival, but sometimes it seemed a little contrived. He just happened to have a compass with him on his business trip? He just happened to know how to shoot a bow and arrow to kill an animal? Okay. Sure. He had plenty of challenges and losses that made it harder to survive, but he had a level of expertise that almost seemed like a cheat at times.

Final Thoughts

After reading some descriptions of the movie and watching the trailer, I knew Hollywood was going to do that bad thing they do where they take a book and make it unrecognizable. I was really confused by the advertising campaign, where they insisted it was a romantic date night movie. Um, it’s about two people trying not to die while spending twenty-four days in the snowy wilderness. It’s also pitched as a romance, and though I’d certainly swoon over Idris Elba any day, I was internally rejecting this love story as I was reading. He’s married. She’s engaged. They do care deeply about each other because of their circumstances, but in the end I didn’t want it to happen. Also, I’ve seen the trailer. Hollywood, Ashley broke her femur and never at any point walked, and that’s one heck of a plot complication that I’m sure you resolved with an arbitrary bruised knee. Shame on you.

I would recommend this book, but you must look beyond the so-so writing to see the story within. General rule: the book is always better. 🙂

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