In this debut memoir, a retired high school teacher recounts a horrific mountain lion attack and its aftermath.
On March 23, 1986, Mattern was in Casper’s Park in California with her husband, Don, and their two young children. Suddenly, the author saw what looked like a “large tan dog” running toward her daughter, Laura, who was looking for tadpoles in a stream. Before Mattern realized it was a mountain lion, it had bitten Laura’s head and dragged her away. The lion finally left the girl and ran off; the child survived, but in the coming months, she underwent multiple surgeries to repair her skull and eye. A neurosurgeon said that Laura’s injuries were the worst he’d ever seen. Mattern’s memoir gives a vivid, day-by-day report of Laura’s early recovery, conveying an impressive amount of detail about her condition. The author also devotes a large section to the family’s negligence suit against Orange County, which started after Don heard from a park ranger, “We’ve been having a lot of trouble with that mountain lion lately.” An anonymous source told the author that the county had recently voted to continue its deer-hunting policy, despite warnings that mountain lions weren’t getting enough to eat, and thus might come after people. The case came to trial in 1991, and Laura’s family was awarded more than $2 million. The use of the present tense throughout the book makes the events feel current, even though they all occurred more than a quarter-century ago. Alongside the author’s concern for her daughter, she offers a poignant record of her loss of faith; she’d been a nun for six years before leaving the convent and meeting her husband, but Laura’s attack led her to question whether there was a God in control. A 1991 Easter vigil, she says, marked the beginning of her “step into the darkness of unbelief,” she says, and she now considers herself an atheist. In a well-chosen epilogue, set in 2002, Laura reassures her mother she wouldn’t undo the attack if she could, as it formed her character and brought their family closer.
A gripping account of a frightening event and its ramifications.