Down From Cascom Mountain, by Ann Joslin Williams.
Still, you couldn't ever let go entirely, you still had to believe that someday, somewhere, all that was missing would somehow appear and come out right. Even when you knew, you knew, what you were looking for was just an illusion, a dream, a hope, a myth. And what was truly possible might be in places you never thought to look before. Or had looked, but hadn't seen. - from Down from Cascom Mountain -
Mary Hall has returned to Cascom Mountain in New Hampshire with her new husband, Michael. Mary grew up on the mountain, navigating the woods and trails, nurturing the wildlife, and working as part of the mountain club's crew to clear trails and help in search and rescue during the summer months. Now she hopes to entice Michael to love the area as much as she does, to help fix up her parents' old house, and possibly make a life there. But a hike brings tragedy. Michael inexplicably loses his balance on a ledge and falls to his death, leaving Mary devastated and alone. As the days pass, Mary will discover friendship with the young people on the mountain club crew, and with the quiet and compassionate fire watchman, Ben. What they will learn together is that healing is possible, and what is lost may be found again.
Down From Cascom Mountain is a quiet novel of grief and the journey through healing. Its message seems to be that our past is never that far from us, that the slips and mistakes we make help form who we become, and that loss is a tentative and changing entity. In the novel, there is a missing girl, someone from Mary's past, an albino girl who disappeared on the evening her boyfriend died. Mary and all of the characters are haunted by this "ghost girl" who flits through the background of the story reminding them all how quickly one can become lost both figuratively and literally.
Ann Williams writes with a fluidity and descriptiveness which pulled me easily into the story. Even had I not known that she was a college professor, I would have guessed that she worked with young adults. Williams captures perfectly the search for identity and the insecurities which teens face. My favorite character was not Mary, but a teenage girl named Callie. Callie is just uncovering who she is and she is awkward within her own body. She looks up to an older girl on the crew, and idolizes Mary. When an older man shows her attention, Callie is pulled into a relationship which makes her uncomfortable, and from which she struggles to disentangle herself. Callie struck me as very real ... a young girl who represents so many young girls.
Another aspect of the novel that I appreciated was Williams' wonderful descriptions of the natural world. As a child, I was always running around in the woods, climbing trees, and exploring. Because of that, I have always felt close to nature and often turn to it when I am struggling with life. In Down From Cascom Mountain, the characters relate to the beauty of the mountain and woods, even though there is danger mixed with the beauty; they turn to nature for solace and to try to make sense of their losses. Williams uses the natural world as a symbol of life itself -- its beauty, its challenges, the rugged landscape with its pitfalls and dangers ... all become metaphors for the lives of the characters.
Down From Cascom Mountain is beautifully rendered and character-driven. Readers looking for a fast-paced plot will not find it in this novel. What they will discover are authentic characters who resonate as real people. All the characters in the book face challenges and they all seek different paths to overcome the losses in their lives. The beauty in the story is not that there are answers readily available for the characters, but that the journey teaches them something important. In Down From Cascom Mountain, Williams takes her readers down the difficult and rugged path of grief and loss, and demonstrates the resiliency of the human spirit.
Then the fog of grief began to shift toward something else, toward a desire to live, to push on, to get started on new life. - from Down From Cascom Mountain -
She dropped the hose in the grass and looked at the garden, at the little plants gleaming, droplets of water clinging to their fragile leaves. She felt peculiarly moved and sad, but also giddy; Michael had sent her a sign. A task. Get busy. Here are things to take care of. - from Down From Cascom Mountain -
Down From Cascom Mountain will appeal to readers of literary fiction and those who enjoy coming of age stories as well.
- Quality of Writing: Four and a half stars
- Characters: Four stars
- Plot: Four stars
Overall Rating: Four stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".