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Book Review: Down from Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams

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Down From Cascom Mountain, from Bloomsbury Publishing, is a haunting character study set in a sparsely populated mountain with a mysterious pull. Mary Walker brings her new husband Michael to her deceased parents’ vacation home. Her hopes are to recreate with him the home where she felt loved and safe. Perhaps they will conceive a child as well as restore the long-abandoned summer cottage. When tragedy strikes on Cascom Mountain, Mary finds solace with some young people living and working at a resort on the mountain.

Ann Joslin Williams was born in 1958 in Iowa City, where her father, National Book Award winner Thomas Williams, was teaching at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. To pay homage to his legacy in literature, Ms. Williams set the book in her father’s fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire. Her short story collection, The Woman in the Woods, won the 2005 Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Down From Cascom Mountain marks her debut in the novel genre. A recipient of a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts grant, Ms. Williams is an Assistant Professor at the University of New Hampshire.

The book is a study of the self-blame, regret and longing that stems from grief. We give ourselves instructions on how to live life. Then loss hits us and we are blinded. The jumble of emotions the characters experience is a stark contrast to the unshakable mountain where they spend their summer. Rather than despising the mountain where she has suffered multiple losses, Mary instead finds comfort there. A notable, well-drawn character is young Tobin, the enigmatic protector of Mary, who struggles to control the strange voices in his head. People looking for a “clean read” should be forewarned of some salacious scenes.

The prologue and epilogue seemed superfluous to this reader. The ghost of a lost teenager is alluded to, but is not woven into the main body of the book.

Although the characters are complex, the writing is clean and simple, allowing them to tell their stories. A main character is Cascom Mountain itself. Is it the healer or the cause of the grief? The reader may wonder why the title is Down From Cascom Mountain since the important elements of the story are up on the mountain. That mystery will be solved when you read the book.

The book will be released in a hard-cover version. The elusive and ethereal nature of the mountain is evident from the beautiful cover. The book is a perfect summer read for people in love with the beautiful, stately mountains of New Hampshire. Anyone who has experienced grief may identify with the characters, therefore finding the book a conduit to a more comforting place.

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