A hit-and-run fatality overshadows the life of a family and a community in the bush of British Columbia.
Sarah Leipciger’s debut novel, The Mountain Can Wait, centers on a family’s shared and separate struggles in the wilds of British Columbia. Tom’s wife left him when the kids were small. He hopes he can put in one last good year at work, sell his forest restoration company and provide for his children in his retirement. His son, Curtis, lives a few towns over, a young man on his own. Daughter Erin has begun to pull into herself, in typical teenage fashion. Around this nucleus are colorful characters like Tom’s mother-in-law, angry and estranged, living off the land in a tiny island village; Tom’s new girlfriend, a poet with an independent streak; and the tree planters and other employees of his company. Between hunting and foraging, idle drug use and countless cigarettes, this motley crew sharply evokes their environment in Leipciger’s spare but feeling prose.
The biggest crisis of all is out of sight for much of the story, but bookends everything else that transpires: a hit-and-run that kills a teenaged girl and haunts the driver, who is slow to seek redemption. “She was an instant, the sulfuric flare of a match…. And there was a dull slap.” This overarching tragedy shadows the rest of the action, as characters go on making their plans, unaware of how it will affect their lives.
In language that highlights natural beauty and the challenges of living in the bush, Leipciger explores what a sense of responsibility really entails, the finer points of family dynamics and the strong hold a place can have on a person, from Whistler to the tiny isles around Vancouver Island. Curtis struggles with the family tradition of hunting for their meat; he has trouble killing, even collecting tadpoles. But he will wreak havoc in just trying to survive, let alone impress his father. Tom is still troubled by the sordid details of his wife’s demise, some years after she left. He loves his children, but despairs at knowing them at all.
The Mountain Can Wait concentrates on the difficulties of properly caring for loved ones, and the meaning of community. Set within British Columbia’s stunning and intimidating back country, a mountain goat killed in one shot and a bear only wounded come to the forefront, too. As the title reflects, even the calamities Tom and his clan experience fade against such a backdrop.
This review originally ran in the May 14, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade
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Rating: 7 cherries.
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