Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford

The Mountain Lion was my November choice for the Read Your Own Books Challenge for which the book must have been on the shelf for over six months.

During the first months of 2010 I participated in the Spotlight Series, an event which each time put the focus on one particular and less well-known publisher and bloggers read and reviewed one of the books on their list. One of the publishers was NYRB  (New York Review Books) who very generously sent a thank you gift to each participant - mine was a fantastic tote bag and an ARC of The Mountain Lion due to be republished in July 2010. It has taken until now for me to pick it up and read it and as so often happens I found I'd been ignoring an absolute gem! One that I've since discovered has been described as....

" of the best novels about adolescence in American literature. "

Eight-year-old Molly Fawcett and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable, in league with each other against the stodgy and stupid routines of school and daily life; against their prim mother and prissy older sisters; against the world of authority and perhaps the world itself. One summer they are sent from the genteel Los Angeles suburb that is their home to backcountry Colorado, where their uncle Claude has a ranch. There the children encounter an enchanting new world—savage, direct, beautiful, untamed—to which, over the next few years, they will return regularly, enjoying a delicious double life.

From the first pages my heart went out to Ralph and Molly. Having recently suffered from scarlet fever they have been left  'thin, pallid and runny-nosed', with poor eyesight and glasses, and suffering constant nosebleeds although the latter is a condition they use to their own advantage. They're also extremely intelligent and imaginative children and while Ralph may chafe against Molly's excessive devotion and the way she copies everything he says and does, he also knows she is his only ally and friend.
This first part of the story is delightful . The author's narrative not only describes Ralph and Molly's lives from their perspective but makes the reader privy to their thoughts .The clear vision of children that see the truth beneath the hypocrisy and social pretensions surrounding them makes for thinking that is irreverent, rude and very, very funny.

Four years later Mrs Fawcett decides to take her older daughters on a world trip and Ralph and Molly will have to spend a year on the ranch. Now moving into adolescence their relationship is beginning to change. Ralph begins to sense, not without anxiety, the call and challenge of impending manhood, while Molly, burns with ambition to be writer but still clings desperately to childhood and her attachment to her brother.

The lightheartedness of the story gradually gives way to a dark and unsettling tone as Ralph and Molly begin to draw apart, each suffering the fears and pain of growing up. The tension builds - you know something is going to happen - and it does . An explosive ending which is still with me.

Jean Stafford's prose is simple but vividly descriptive, powerful and emotionally intense. First published in 1947 The Mountain Lion is a wonderful book and one I know I must read again.


  1. I am really hoping that we can bring the Spotlight Series back next year, but I am not sure what my availability will be. I really enjoyed hosting it, though! And NYRB was such a brilliant partner and I love the farmers' market bag they sent us all, too!

    PS - I haven't read the book they sent me, either.

  2. Aarti - I'll look forward to the possibility of more SS. And I hope your NYRB book proves to be as good as mine.

  3. You make this sound wonderful. My copy from the Spotlight series is still unread, and I really must find time to read it soon. It was so generous of NYRB to send books and bags far and wide.

  4. You make this sound wonderful. My copy from the Spotlight series is still unread, and I really must find time to read it soon. It was so generous of NYRB to send books and bags far and wide.

  5. It makes me so happy to hear that you actually ENJOYED the book you read for the challenge last month! And I am really anxious to start reading some of the NYRB classics. They re-release some awesome books.