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The Mountain Lion

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  434 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
Coming of age in pre-World War II California and Colorado brings tragedy to Molly and Ralph Fawcett in Jean Stafford's classic semi-autobiographical novel, first published in 1947. Torn between their mother's world of genteel respectability and their grandfather's and uncle's world of cowboy masculinity, neither Molly nor Ralph can find an acceptable adult role to aspire t ...more
Paperback, 231 pages
Published January 1st 1992 by University of Texas Press (first published 1972)
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Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: carve your name into a tree
Recommended to Mariel by: how the west was won and where it got me
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Complicated (but told in a remarkably straightforward style), sad, strange, wise, and always compelling, The Mountain Lion is frequently categorized as a coming-of-age novel. But brothers, sisters, genteel mothers, portraits of dead grandfathers, the lingering scars of scarlet fever, and the limited use that a Colorado cattle ranch (or the west in general) has for a smart, artistic and sickly young girl-- all of these things add up to ensure that nobody ever really comes of age in this novel.

Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-west
Jean Stafford doesn't pull her punches in this California-Colorado coming of age. Awkward and sickly siblings Ralph and Molly are inseparable and co-dependent until they start to spend summers with their uncle Claude in Colorado, where Ralph pulls away from their insular, shared world in favor of the virile camaraderie of his uncle and his uncle's ranch hands. The author deftly alternates between the siblings' two viewpoints, and their thoughts and feelings have dream-like, breathtaking intensit ...more
This is a wonderful hidden gem -- I couldn't put it down. Luminous descriptions of sibling rivalry in the 1940s in a middle-class home in California and then on a cattle ranch in Colorado. Excellent portrayal of the inner drama of adolescence without any psychobabble. Straightforward writing, eminently readable, and totally unpretentious. This should be required reading for all high school seniors.
May 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
Flat declarative writing that somehow manages to be sharply photographic a the same time. Someone said this is a 'not coming-of-age' tale. Someone else talks about the absence of 'psychobabble' in the observations of these developing children. Ditto.

Captivated by sentences like "The smoke from Winifred's cigarette went straight up and then opened out into a horn like a blue lily." and "Once out in the bright green meadows of the valley he thought he would be safe from the thoughts that swarmed a
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
The two children that are the main characters of this book are so emotionally disturbed that it was sometimes hard to relate to them. Also, since this book was written in the 1940's some of the racially derogatory words were problematical and made the book seem dated. However, the ending, which I won't divulge, came as such a surprise that I gave the book 4 stars.
Sutter Lee
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's been 20 years since I read this, after a friend lent me his copy, with praise for Stafford as his favorite novelist. I then read some of her other novels and short stories, but cannot recall which ones. I've been unable to remember her name, only Jean, and a title with the word Lion. I wrote to him last night (he's in his early 80s, so thank goodness he's still alive and has all his marbles (I knew he was/did -- is/does) and he immediately wrote back. What I really remember is Stafford's in ...more
Mar 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: any and all
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Malena Watrous
Jean Stafford, another dark genius who should be read widely. She nails the awkwardness of adolescence and the changing relationship of a misfit sister and brother. I will take the image of a pair of ram skulls locked at the antlers to my grave.
Apr 17, 2013 rated it liked it
I didn't dislike The Mountain Lion, but I am a bit baffled by it. It's about a young boy named Ralph and his cantankerous sister Molly growing up out West shortly after WWII. At the time, Los Angeles was still surrounded by orchards and groves, and these refined Easterners struggled to maintain their dainty civilities in the face of rustic Western ways. Ralph and Molly are caught in the middle, between East and West, daintiness and hardiness, between youth and adulthood. Their united front falte ...more
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I did not necessarily like this book but I respected it a lot. (I have a hard time with any book that is rugged or western in general -- maybe because I am an liberal East Coast elite? -- so my lack of emotional connection is perhaps not surprising. I do have an affinity for well-drawn and deeply unlikable characters, though, which this book delivered in spades.) Whatever your literary preferences, this is undeniably a very well-crafted and masterfully written book. I'm glad I read it even thoug ...more
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's impossible to explain my four rather than five stars without a spoiler. Suffice it to say that for years I've meant to read Stafford's novel and am glad that I finally did. NYRB Classics are always provocative.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading in preparation for Dead Writers Book Group in October: http://deadwritersbookgroup.wordpress...

(my god, what an ending!).
Susan Neuwirth
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book, not known by any of my good reader friends, in the NYT book review section. One of the authors being reviewed mentioned this book was on her bedside table. She used words like mysterious and mystical. Not sure I’d use those words but it was a fantastic read along the lines of Rebecca West - really well written. Two siblings, a few years a part, daughter very odd but you don’t ever know what with and her brother, Ralph. Strange mother. Jean Stafford seems to be a writer no one ...more
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book deeply engaging; the family and their struggles were portrayed with astonishing psychological detail and lovely little humorous asides. The contrast between upper middle class life in southern California, early 20th Century, and life on a working ranch in Colorado was fascinating. Even the difference between "fancy" cross country trains and the local trains through the abandoned gold rush towns of Colorado described significant and meaningful aspects of the life of the West.
Sarah Swedberg
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think this is my favorite book this year, although the book was originally published in 1947. It's an adult novel about children, and it's an adult novel that gets childhood, or at least childhood for those of us who were odd, sometimes enraged, and often believed we would never find a place to fit.

Molly is furious, crazy, genius, and unhappy.

I can't remember how I found this novel, but I'm glad I did.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it liked it

A poignant story about growing up.

I really liked it. The ending was powerful, impactful, and very rightly earned even though it made me want to chuck my book out a window.

There's a slow patch in the beginning that ends up taking over a little too much of this book, but at least when it gets good, it gets really good.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four stars for the book. Five stars for Molly and Goldilocks.
RD Chiriboga Moncayo
Magnificent coming of age novel. Beautifully written and ruthlessly true to life.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pok-lib
Wow. Wow. WOW.

Cormac McCarthy WISHES.
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
There are elements of this book that haven’t aged well, and made it hard for me to enjoy.
Adam Shafer
Lush characterizations and elegant prose, but ... if it’s possible to have too much of both and too little of everything else, this story was a good example of it.
Jason M.
What a great, great, great, great book.
Daniel Lagan
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Meh. Didn't work for me.
Kevin Bertolero
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Damn Jean Stafford, fucking slay me
Jim Davis
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Stranger than it seems on the surface, and with an absolutely gut-wrenching conclusion. (Don't read the author's preface first, as it gives away the ending in the first paragraph!)
Sasha Martinez
Jean Stafford‘s introduction to her 1947 novel, The Mountain Lion, closes with: “Poor old Molly! I loved her dearly and [spoiler spoiler spoiler].” That never augurs well. You begin the novel wary of tragedy, anticipating brokenness and all-around disaster. That you feel, even within the first few pages, that it shall all lead to you bawling in a shady corner. I know I let out one of those hoarse/squeaky screams in a crowded train when I reached the book’s end. But we’re getting ahead of ourselv ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it liked it
A strong three to four star. Another book from New York Review of Books imprint - gems that were forgotten and then republished.

Ralph and Molly change from children to adolescents while at their uncle's ranch in Colorado over a course of several years. And if this is what a boy goes through while changing from a boy to a man, then I'm, for once, glad to have been a awkward girl growing up in the 80s. Both children, are slightly the black sheep of their family, while their older siblings are two
Nov 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Wow. This was disturbing, but also quite beautifully written, in a style both dated to some degree, but also enthralling. A widowed California mother, who obviously favors the company of her two eldest daughters, periodically foists her youngest children, Ralph and Molly, onto her bachelor rancher brother, Claude, in Colorado. Over the course of the 6 years of the book's plot, the visits increase from a month or two to an entire year, while the mother (always formally referred to as Mrs. Fawcett ...more
Austen to Zafón
I'm not sure what to think about this 1940s coming-of-age novel. I found it difficult to like or care about any of the characters and so I wasn't moved by the various betrayals and tragedies. And yet the descriptions of complicated sibling co-dependence and rivalry, sexual tension, family dynamics, and cultural expectations of boys and girls were compelling and illuminating. I tried to think of my mother being a young girl in that era, in California and in a relatively wealthy family with certai ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is not about a mountain lion in the same way To Kill a Mockingbird is not about a mockingbird. It is the story of a brother and sister and their relationship with each other and with other members of their family and extended family as they go from childhood into their teens. The main characters are well developed. The author meets my criteria because amidst all the dialogue there are excellent portions, so here is a quote: "There were the smell of fat meat cooking in beans, the smell ...more
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NYRB Classics: December 2014: The Mountain Lion 17 42 Dec 20, 2014 05:16AM  
NYRB Classics: The Mountain Lion, by Jean Stafford 1 5 Oct 29, 2013 04:22PM  
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Jean Stafford was an American short story writer and novelist, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford in 1970.

“He whirled round and round in his rapid love; it pricked him on the breastbone like a needle. He wanted to be shut up in a small space to think about it. He wanted to grab it and eat it like an apple so that nobody else could have it.” 1 likes
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