It’s a book set in Utah, without one Mormon joke.
Of course, the plot isn’t all that funny anyway.
A man (Dr. Ben Payne), trying to get home from a medical conference, is frustrated when his commercial flight was canceled. So he does what all of us would do. He charters a private plane to beat the storm. (What? You wouldn’t do that? Well that’s why people don’t write books about you.) At the last moment, he thinks of another stranded passenger he’d had a conversation with – a woman trying to get to her wedding, which happens to be that weekend.
The two of them hurriedly get on a plane with an older pilot, but not before Ben checks his voicemail, in which his wife says she forgives him. He doesn’t call her back, before taking off from Salt Lake with a blushing, beautiful bride-to-be. In fact, none of the three people in the plane tell anyone that they’re headed off on a single engine plane instead of the commercial jet liner.
Ben finds his new friend attractive, of course, but is a loyal sort of man. As they take off from the hangar, the old pilot gives her wedding advice and regales them with stories of romance and long-term love.
That is, until his story is cut short by the fact that he inconveniently has a heart attack right in the middle of one of the harshest stretches of land in the United States. No, not Philly… the High Uintas Wilderness. Miraculously, Ben and the bride-to-be (Ashley Knox) survive… and so does a host of items that allow them to survive for 28 days in the frozen tundra of Utah. (A compass, a bow, an item that boils water, a lighter, and so forth. What they didn’t crash with, Ben can create out of good old fashioned American ingenuity and spit. That’s the kind of guy he is – a hiker, a runner, and someone who can down a moose at fifty yards.)
Ashley’s leg is broken, and Ben has to help her survive by setting her leg, carrying her a million miles on a make-shift sled, and helping her go to the bathroom. Except there is no bathroom, because this page turning survival story mostly takes place on the side of a mountain.
As Ben and Ashley bond – and she consequently misses her wedding – they are attracted to each other. I mean, what man doesn’t love leg hair stubble and the smell of starvation on his loved one’s breath? And what woman wouldn’t fall for the guy who invited her to fly in a blizzard, on a single engine prop plane with a pilot that makes John McCain look like a young whippersnapper?
Ben, it turns out, is separated from his wife though he faithfully records messages for her on a voice recorder. Ashley eavesdrops on Ben’s sweet words to his wife, as he tells stories about his current battle for survival, interspersed with tales of their former love. It’s therapeutic, apparently, and he happened to buy a value-pack of batteries at the airport.
Ashley begins to wonder if she’s engaged to the right kind of guy. Her fiancé, for example, wouldn’t know how to gut a moose. Nor would he leave her such tender messages.
But what could’ve been “Bridge of Madison County, On Ice” takes an interesting and clever turn. One you don’t want to miss.
Charles Martin is a writer who lives in Florida with his wife and three boys. This is his seventh book. Interested in reading “The Mountain Between Us?”
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