Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Mountain Between Us - Charles Martin

Summary: Lying together on a storm-ravaged night are gifted surgeon Dr. Ben Payne, who is facing an agonizing separation from his wife, and Ashley Knox, a young magazine writer en route to her wedding.  When their plane crashes in a frigid and remote mountain wilderness, Ashley and Ben are plunged into a life-or-death struggle.  As the days turn to weeks on the unforgiving mountain, the two heal from their physical wounds, even as they are forced to confront surprising and painful truths.  These intimate conversations and their dependence on each other create an extraordinary bond.  Finally with their survival hanging in the balance, they hatch a plan to escape the wilderness, but as desperate as they are to be saved, Ashley and Ben wonder what will happen to their powerful connection when they return to their previous lives.  (Summary from back of book - Image from pinterest.com)

My Review:  Dr. Ben Payne is a gifted surgeon, scheduled to be in the operating room in less than 24 hours.  Ashley Knox has a wedding to attend -- her own!  When their flight is cancelled at the last minute, they both end up on a small charter flight to Denver, desperate to make it to their respective commitments.  Unfortunately, the plane crashes, the pilot is dead, and the two strangers are injured, stranded in the middle of a vast mountainous wilderness, miles from civilization and with very little hope of rescue.  

I was drawn to The Mountain Between Us because I had seen ads for the movie version on Hulu, so reading the book first seemed like the natural step.  The story alternates between Ben and Ashley's present predicament and Ben's account of pivotal moments in his life, which he captures on a  medical recording device.  The story is told exclusively from the male perspective, which is understandable. Since Ashley is gravely injured for 98% of the book and often unconscious or sleeping, I can see why her perspective would be harder to write, but I did wish I could have seen parts of the story through her eyes. 

I don't read books in the survival genre a lot, so I'm not sure what passes for 'normal' these days, but the author made a few stylistic choices that bothered me.  First, after the plane crash when Ben was assessing available equipment, he started name dropping equipment brands which felt contrived and cringey, almost as if the author were trying to establish credibility with survivalist readers.  Second, the pace was incredibly slow, some might even say arduous.  I suppose that could have been intentional, to draw out the suspense, but mostly the story just felt bogged down by a great deal of unnecessary information.  Do readers really need to know exactly how Ben fashioned a stretcher out of A, B, C, and D by doing T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.  Personally, I feel it is better to give a little less detail and let the reader connect some of the dots.  Finally, Ben seemed to be an expert in an unusual amount of areas. Not only is he a talented surgeon, he's also an accomplished hiker, a record-breaking runner, and Eagle Scout (and so on).  It all felt too convenient and a bit like the author was trying to feed into male-readers survival fantasies (where the Renaissance Man/Hero uses his impressive skill set to both defy certain death doom and rescue the damsel in distress.  

Despite these shortcomings, there were a few aspects of the story that I enjoyed.  I liked the 'running' theme that cropped up from time to time.  I can't go into the details without spoiling a few things, but I felt it enriched the story.  I loved the recordings Ben made for his wife, the insight and background they offered, and how they provided an emotional counterpoint to his present situation. I appreciated that the author kept the characters' relationship fairly 'PG.'  As my investment in the characters increased, my awareness of the flaws in the story faded, and I felt pulled to keep reading just to see how things would end.  I got the sense that the author was either intentionally misleading the reader or building to a bigger reveal and I was not wrong.  Although the eventual payoff was satisfying and the book was an 'okay' one-time read, it wasn't sufficient for me to recommend it to other readers with any kind of enthusiasm.  

NOTE: Since reading this book, I have watched the movie as well and will give you my thoughts about how the two compare below this review.  For those who might be interested....

My Rating:  2.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The book has a few swear words, some description of bodies as it relates to survival and some discussion of sex.  

HOW THE MOVIE COMPARES TO THE BOOK 

After reading the book, I hoped the movie would have a little less talking about the characters' every move and a lot more actual movement.  Since actors can do in seconds what it takes authors pages to describe, the movie delivered the appropriate pacing and eliminated some of my worries about excessive detail.  I also wanted the two main characters to be more equal partners, rather than one side doing most of the work; the movie delivered on that score too.  The one thing that was left out of the movie that I missed was the recorded 'flashback' moments from Ben's life.  I realize that there probably wasn't time to cover all the background, and so adjustments were made, but I missed the aspects of the story that the recorder (and its contents) brought to the table.  

Overall, I feel like the production staff read the book and said, "Well, we like the general concept so we're going to keep some basic plot points, mess around with the timeline, and tweak or omit everything else." I don't want to spoil any of the changes in storyline, but I will say that there is a level of PG-13 intimacy in the on-screen version that isn't present in the book.  I fast forwarded through it without too much of a problem, so if you aren't feeling like slogging through the Uinta Mountain range for more than 1hr 52 minutes, I recommend the movie over the book.  

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