In Lansens’ latest (The Wife’s Tale, 2010, etc.), a teenage boy finds himself stranded on a mountain with three women he doesn't know and must overcome not only the natural elements, but his own fears and guilt.
Since the novel is framed as a letter written by Wolf Truly to his son years later, there's no question about his survival; but the letter hints that survival has come at a major cost. The characters’ names tell a lot about Lansens’ schematic approach to her material. There's the protagonist, Wolf; his best friend, Byrd; and Byrd’s beautiful cousin, Lark, with whom Wolf has long been infatuated. Wolf and Byrd met when Wolf was 13, after he and his alcoholic father moved from Michigan to the California desert town of Santa Sophia. They bonded in part because both had lost parents—Wolf his mother, Byrd his mother and father—but Wolf lives in a poor, trashy neighborhood while Byrd’s uncle is a successful businessman. Byrd taught Wolf to love the mountain rising above Santa Sophia. When Wolf is 18, he heads to the mountain, alone, on the first anniversary of a terrible accident Byrd had, for which he feels responsible. He’s planning to commit suicide when an older woman, the recently widowed Nola, asks him to guide her to Secret Lake. Two women hanging out nearby turn out to be Nola’s daughter, Bridget, and granddaughter, Vonn. If Nola is grief-stricken, Bridget exudes desperation. Through a series of missteps, the group gets lost, then trapped in a canyon. As Wolf makes one failed attempt after another to get help, he relives his troubled childhood and becomes caught up in the history and complicated relationships of the women. The conclusion mixes hard-to-believe sacrifice with an equally hard-to-believe happy ending.
If nature’s danger and beauty are extreme here, the characters too seem melodramatically extreme in their sentimental goodness (and evil).