I’m not easily swayed by those author quotes you see adorning book jackets – some writers seem to be a little too free and easy with their praise for me – but, as regular readers will know, so enamoured am I of Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs that a fulsome quote from him makes me sit up and take notice. Such was the case with Sarah Leipciger’s debut, The Mountain Can Wait, and I wasn’t disappointed – it’s the real deal.
We know from the first brief chapter that Curtis Berry has knocked down a young woman in the early hours after a party, leaving her for dead at the side of a lonely road. From there Leipciger switches her focus to Tom, Curtis’ father. An unwilling parent at nineteen, Tom has raised Curtis and his younger sister alone. Their unstable mother was found dead in a snowdrift four years after abandoning them when Curtis was five and Erin a mere three months old. Tom runs a tree planting company, camping in the Canadian backwoods with his team where they spend a month or so working and, occasionally, playing hard. He and his lover meet now and then, each preferring to keep their independence. When Tom is visited by a detective at the planters’ camp he knows he must track his son down, a trail which leads him to his mother-in-law last seen a decade ago. There can be no happy ending, clearly, but there is hope of redemption and some kind of understanding.
Leipciger reveals Tom’s character and his relationship with Curtis and Erin through flashbacks to their childhood, interwoven with life overseeing the planters. Her writing is remarkable: she’s nailed that stripped-down, spare simplicity which conveys so much in a single phrase, and she’s a mistress of ‘show not tell’. The relationship between Tom and Curtis is beautifully portrayed: Curtis’ aching need at odds with Tom’s seemingly distant practicality which masks a driving determination to protect his son, neither able to reach each other. The sense of place is strikingly vivid: in just a few words Leipciger made me feel that I was striding around the Canadian bush. Tom views the natural world with respect and acceptance, suspicious and dismissive of his mother-in-law’s vaguely New Age rituals. He’s a deeply humane man, one who deplores the shooting of a bear that loggers have carelessly allowed to live too close and now want disposed of, but knows it has to be done. It’s a very fine novel, and hats off to Tinder Press, now in their third year, who seem to have developed a sharp eye for talent.