A snow storm and a broken de-icer strands thousands of travelers in the Salt Lake City airport. Dr. Ben Payne, on his way home from a medical conference, checks in with a charter pilot to see if they could beat the storm and get to Denver. Ben invites Ashley Knox, a fellow passenger he just met, to accompany them. Ashley’s on her way to her wedding rehearsal, so she’s eager to go.
But the pilot has a heart attack over the Uinta mountains. The plane crashes, the pilot dies, Ashley and Ben sustain several injuries. Her leg is severely broken; he has a couple of broken ribs and maybe a collapsed lung.
Thankfully Ben has hiking gear with him, brought along for a few excursions in-between conference meetings. His experience as a doctor and hiker and his athleticism from years of running give him an advantage, but he and Ashley have several things against them: their injuries, the remoteness of their location, the terrain, the cold, the fact that their pilot hadn’t filed a flight plan, and they had not let anyone know of their last-minute changes.
As they get well enough to travel, find food, and start off, Ben records messages to his wife, Rachel, on a voice recorder. Ben tells Ashley that he and Rachel are separated, but this recorder tradition started early in their relationship. Through Ben’s recordings, both Ashley and readers learn of Ben and Rachel’s backstory. Ashley finds herself questioning whether she and her fiance have the kind of love that will last.
I’m not usually one for plane crash stories. I don’t want them to come to mind when I have to fly. But I had heard good things about The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. It is a surviving disaster story, but even more than that, it’s about relationships. The fight to survive is suspenseful and intense, and the relationships between Ben and Rachel, and then Ben and Ashley (and even the pilot and his wife) are beautifully unfolded.
The story is marred for me, though, by some crudities (particularly a joke between Ben and Ashley) and some interaction between Ben and his wife that should have remained private.
Martin says in an afterward that he was inspired by Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” But that’s not reflected in the story. I know that Christian stories are sometimes subtle: in Esther, for instance, God’s name is not mentioned nor are there any practices that acknowledge God beyond a time of prayer and fasting, yet God’s influence and leading are all throughout the book. Maybe that’s how Martin meant this book, but but it comes across as fairly secular. Perhaps he meant it for the general market.
So – mixed emotions. I loved the story itself. I could have done without the crude parts and private moments, and I would have liked the Christian undercurrent, if there is one, fleshed out more.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)