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A B C D E F G H I
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Item #: BK1853
A MOUNTAIN TOO FAR A Father's Search for Meaning in the Climbing Death of His Son
By Purnell, Karl H.
Price: $24.95


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2001, 1st edition. Any parent will find it hard to read former newspaper reporter Purnell's detailed account of a two-year quest to understand his 28-year-old son Chris's sudden death. Chris, an obsessive climber, died in Canada in an ice-climbing accident. At first racked by anger, Purnell becomes "obsessed with finding out just who Chris was, to know his secrets and why he chose to climb." Developing his own climbing skills, the 65-year-old author visits some of his son's favorite regions, climbing in Yosemite, the French Alps and then finally the Himalayas, where, twice trying to scale mountains that Chris also attempted to climb, he achieves a sort of closure. The first part of Purnell's narrative is somewhat stiff, as he apparently tries to separate the story from his clearly overwhelming emotions.

However, in the second half, Purnell includes Chris's own journal entries about life and climbing. As he begins to understand Chris's life of "fervor and commitment," Purnell gains some painful insight: that serious climbers usually have "a childhood filled with family trauma" in Chris's case, his parents' acrimonious divorce and that perhaps he is "wrong in refusing to accept Chris's absence." Purnell ultimately decides that perhaps his "need to climb a mountain to know [his] son was misplaced," but he achieves something else: he pays tribute to Chris's energy and to the pain that a child's death can cause a parent, without descending into maudlin bathos. (Apr.)Forecast: Any parent grieving the loss of a child might be drawn to this clear-minded, loving and unsentimental book. Additionally, given the current popularity of (often dangerous) outdoor sports, Purnell's attempts to make sense of their psychological meaning could help generate word of mouth.

The author, a journalist, novelist, and playwright, suffered the loss of his oldest son in a climbing accident. He was devastated and angry, particularly because he regards such dangerous activities as rock climbing as both foolish and selfish; they not only endanger the participant but affect his or her family. The author traveled to Canada, where his son died, and to the Alps and Himalayas, where he climbed; he also studied Tibetan culture and learned to climb to try to understand why his son felt the need to do it. Through his efforts, he was able to reach some sort of peace and understanding. Some of the details Purnell gives on rock climbing will appeal only to the committed and could have been shortened, but overall this very moving and articulate work is recommended for public and academic libraries. Hardcover, DJ, New.


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