a novel by Ursula Pflug

Print: 978-1-77133-349-8
ePUB: 978-1-77133-350-4
PDF: 978-1-77133-352-8

104 Pages
May 24, 2017
New Fiction All Titles Inanna Young Feminist Series


Mountain a novel by Ursula Pflug

Seventeen-year-old Camden splits her time between her father, a minor rock star, and her mom, a scruffy “hardware geek” who designs and implements temporary and sustainable power systems and satellite linkups for off-grid music and art festivals, tree-sits, and attends gatherings of alternative healers. Lark, Camden’s father, provides her with brand-name jeans, running shoes, and makeup, while her mother’s world is populated by anarchists, freaks, geeks, and hippies. Naturally, Camden prefers staying with her dad and going to the mall with his credit card and her best friend, but one summer, when Lark is recording a new album, Camden accompanies her mother, Laureen, to a healing camp on a mountain in Northern California. After their arrival, Laureen heads to San Francisco, ostensibly to find her lover, but she never comes back. Alone, penniless, and without much in the way of camping skills, Camden withdraws. Things begin to look up when she is befriended by Skinny, a young man in charge of the security detail at the camp who knew her mother as a child. The summer ends and Camden heads back to Toronto to find her dad, and it’s only there that she learns Laureen’s disappearance is tied, unexpectedly, to the secrets Skinny tried to keep from her for months, until, finally, he couldn’t.

“A beautifully sustained and compassionate book about the lost, written in the voice of Camden, a young girl who is, predictably rather than suddenly, abandoned in a healing “camp” halfway up a Mountain in California. Intelligent and wary, she does not ask for sympathy or let anyone, including the reader, nearher voice is cool, sarcastic and resigned, though Ursula Pflug’s mastery gives us the continuous sense of what is not said. This is not a novel of the expected. In the stagnant daily routines on the Mountain (mud and latrines and wet clothes form a large part), the isolation of each from each, the loss of family and attempts to create new bonds however fragile, there is a continuous sense of this book’s being written in the shadow of real migrant camps. This is a novel that does not allow us to turn away.”

—Heather Spears, author of The Strong Box

“A delicate, bittersweet story full of big ideas, told in sumi-e brushstrokes set against a large-scale canvas, from master Canadian fantasist Ursula Pflug.”

—Candas Jane Dorsey, author of A Paradigm of Earth


Ursula Pflug is the award-winning author of the novels Green Music; The Alphabet Stones; the flash-fiction novel, Motion Sickness (illustrated by SK Dyment); and the story collections After the Fires and Harvesting the Moon. She edited the anthologies They Have To Take You In and Playground of Lost Toys (with Colleen Anderson). She has been shortlisted or nominated for the Sunburst Award, the Aurora Award, the Pushcart Prize, the 3-Day Novel Contest, the Descant Novella Award, the KM Hunter Award, and the ReLit Award among others. She lives in Norwood, Ontario.

Mountain by Ursula Pflug
reviewed by James Fisher, Miramichi Reader
Guest Review for Consumed by Ink - June 26 2017

Mountain is a novel (but at only 98 pages, more of a novella) that tells the story of seventeen-year-old Camden O'Connor, a girl who lives in two worlds due to her parents' separation. Her father Lark is a minor rock star based out of Toronto. When with her Dad, she is the typically spoiled city girl with all-access to her father's credit cards. Life with her mother Laureen is decidedly different: she is a member of "The Tribe" a nomadic collective community that lives off the grid (for the most part) along the west coast and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada. Laureen is a self-proclaimed "hardware geek" and it is her main responsibility to set up Internet access for the community. This is where Mountain begins: in Northern California during the spring thaw, the snow is melting and the ground is thawing, giving the area of the encampment a Woodstockian vibe. Everything is either wet or muddy or both. In a few days, Laureen leaves Camden at the camp to go to San Francisco pressing a $50 bill in her hand ("not that you'll need it; I'll only be gone overnight") and is gone.

On her own, and with no way to charge her phone or even be able to use it if she could, Camden's outlook on life outside the city slowly begins to change:

Brown and white and blue: the colours of spring before the snow melts. As always, the media fast made everything seem flat and dull. I knew from experience this would pass, that in a day or two nature would be a better content provider than my phone ever did.

Camden is befriended by Skinny, the young man responsible for camp security and a general jack-of-all-trades. For Skinny, like Laureen, The Tribe has been a way of life for years now.

"Every year the rest of North America gets more like the life I've known from day one."

"It hasn't been such a bad life has it?" I asked.

"I don't have anything to compare it too," he said and abruptly got up and left.

Not much of a mall rat ever, I guess. That would be one difference between us. So he's like me, or one side of me, only more so.

The spiritual relationship between Camden and Skinny slowly unfolds as she awaits her mother's return, possibly with her boyfriend Peter, a man neither Camden or Skinny have much use for. Camden begins to keep a journal and even interviews some of the residents to get their background stories. It is through this project and her talks with Skinny that she comes to understand herself and start her own healing process, eventually carrying what she learns back to the city.

Mountain is a short, but captivating read. It is aimed at the young adult reader (no sex, occasional profanity) and I found it most interesting once I understood the culture of The Tribe. The main characters are likeable, and the backdrop of the mountains and nature, in general, give Mountain a healing and meditative aspect uniquely its own. For such a short work, Mountain produces an impact of disproportionate size.

     “You think this is party time,” my mother said,
turning to face me. “Like all the other places we’ve
been. But it’s not. This gathering is different.”
     Since I didn’t much enjoy the other so-called
gatherings we had been to, I wasn’t impressed.
     “Different from getting high?” I asked. My mother
was lighting her blue clay pipe, a present from Lark.
     “There’s gatherings every year on this mountain
in the spring. They say it’s a holy place, brings
necessary changes,” Laureen persisted.
     “They?” I asked.
     “The people who come,” Laureen said. “The
     We waited while the boy ran back for another
plank. It was bright outside, but dark in the cab,
so I couldn’t make out Laureen’s face as she offered
me the pipe. “It will heal your bones,” she said.
     “My bones are the least of my problems,” I
said. “And you know I can’t take your healing talk
seriously after what happened.”
     “What happened?” Laureen asked.
     “With Peter,” I said.
     Laureen stared at me for a long time. Then
she abruptly changed the subject, a thing she’d
done often, to my eternal consternation. “That’s
Skinny,” she said, catching me watching the boy.
“He’s Tribe, too.”
     “Too?” I asked.
     “As is your mother. Meaning me,” Laureen said.
     “My,” I said. “Another accomplishment. You
have so many. Whatever Tribe is.”

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