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The Mountain Lion

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  681 ratings  ·  119 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 1947)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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lark benobi
Perfect, but also, perfectly upsetting.

This novel belongs on a very short shelf of novels written for adults that remind us of what a feral and terrifying experience it is to be a child.* I'm very unsettled just now at the power of Stafford's vision. I'm glad I'm not in total agreement with her nihilistic take on family life, because I wouldn't want to live that way. My relative faith in people, when compared with Stafford, doesn't keep me from recognizing this novel as a stunningly artful stor
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.
Diane Barnes
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Whoa! I was totally unprepared for that ending! Still processing that, but magnificent prose and powers of description leading up to it. English teachers would have a field day with the symbolism in this novel, and Stafford's ability to get into the mind of children and adolescents is uncanny. This book can be hard to find, but Library of America just issued a volume with 3 of her novels, so I am eagerly anticipating the other 2. Incredible. ...more
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.

I was expecting a coming-of-age story set in the beautiful mountains of Colorado: a pleasant jaunt as two siblings battled the confusion of growing out of childhood. What we get instead is a disturbing story of two kids on different trajectories: one accepting the path to adulthood and the other clinging to childhood and the desire to isolate herself from humanity.

The writing is fantastic. Stafford can switch perspectives mid-sentence which I found to be a lot of fun. The ending is wholly unexp
This novel - about how Ralph was ten and Molly was eight when they had scarlet fever - was written in 1947, but in 1971 the author wrote an AUTHOR'S NOTE wherein she expressed her remorse for what she (the author) did to Molly in the book. That NOTE has forever been added to subsequent editions of the book, and as a foreword, kind of spoiling things for the reader. In truth, a lot of lamentable things happen to Molly through the course of the novel, but by the time the one big, bad thing happene ...more
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
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘The Mountain Lion’ by Jean Stafford is a peculiar book! Until the last four pages, it seemed to be about the class division between those who think a lot about the Fine Arts and Philosophy and beautiful homes and clothes and manners and important people to know and then believe thinking and knowing about those things and buying a lot of expensive art and traveling to European museums and Asian slums elevates them above the common herd, and those who raise horses and cows and crops worrying abou ...more

[Image Info:
2021 Reading Project: (Mostly Midcentury Women Writers)

No 1: Kept wondering if this'd manage to pull itself together by the end—and OH BOY DOES IT. 😳]
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. ...more
Sensational writing. A razor-edged, malevolent masterpiece.
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This isn't a coming of age story, even though it focuses on two siblings growing up/growing apart. I did not expect the sister to be quite so odd and I thought I'd like her and the brother more than I did. However, this is very well-written and engaging, quite unique, and I got very sad for the both of them. There were some passages that I felt the need to highlight and copy, which is always a good sign.

It's always cool to find more female authors from the past, and I definitely would like to r
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: colorado
----------GENERAL THOUGHTS----------

Wow, what a remarkably freaky little book.

In the beginning, it has a quaint, old-timey, homespun feel—like Mark Twain, or the Boxcar Children books.

… and then it doesn’t. In any way. Suddenly there’s sex and incestuous thoughts and death and just really fucked up, Kafkaesque distortions of the flesh. It’s *great.*

-------------PLOT SUMMARY-------------

Ralph (10) and Molly (8) are the two youngest of the Fawcett family: they have two older sisters, Leah and Rac
Sep 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, best-of-2019
The Mountain Lion is a slim novel, bouncing back and forth between the two main characters, a brother and sister who are bonded together and seem throughout to be united in their contempt for other people, especially their mother and older sisters. The portrait of these characters is not to elicit sympathy, but to draw on the deep well of loneliness and a dawning realization of what growing up can mean. Most of the book takes place in the Colorado mountains during the 1930s; the children take di ...more
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
Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ...
After reading Stafford's Pulitzer Prize winning collection of stories I went straight to my library's website and checked out the audiobook of this novel mainly because I live in a small town in the Colorado mountains and do not find many books that remind me of home. I see this one labeled a coming of age story often, but nobody comes of age so I believe that is wrong. This is a very adult book about children and the difficulties of childhood.

The Mountain Lion tells the story of a brother and s
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
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. ...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.
Cor T
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Referenced so many times on the New York Times Book Review podcast that I had to give it a try.

The coming-of-age story is about the two younger children of a domineering widow, whose husband died before the youngest was born. They were raised in early 1930s suburban Los Angeles, in a household of women - their mother, Mrs. Fawcett, her cook, and their two older sisters - but the story is about father figures and what makes a man. The Fawcett household is dominated by a portrait of Grandfather B
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
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Portrait of the artist as a young woman. And man, was she effed-up. So judgmental, so mean, so brilliant. Like Jean Stafford in her own youth, Molly Fawcett has one friend, her brother. At first Molly and Ralph are soul twins, though he is slightly more conventional and begins to chafe at her oddness. For a while, she cares for nothing but him, yet she seems to feel that her vocation, to be a writer, demands much of her from a very early age. The children live in a California household that Moll ...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 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
That ending fucked me up.
I would probably never have known about this book unless I had signed up for an email subscription to promotions from New York Review Books. Occasionally, they have a sale and I'm influenced to buy a few books which I ordinarily would not buy.

Jean Stafford is, I think, best known for her short stories. I'm not sure that I have ever read one, though. So I believe that this is my intro to Stafford.

She's very skillful at drawing characters. Her sentences are well-polished and never overly intricate
The Mountain Lion was a book masterfully written and weird at the same time. I was ingrained with the back and forth narrative between two siblings- A coming of age tale about the awkwardness of sister Molly and brother Stafford.

I read this book in less than twenty-four hours. Still, I was quite emotionally disturbed just like the minds of the brother and sister duo after I completed the book. What was most troubling was the unexpected ending. Molly, oh Molly.

Although I read this narrative and
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This a strange tale of growing up and not growing up, of adultish children and childish adults, of how you have to kill something in yourself to survive. I loved the landscapes, the lippia fields, the harebells, the red sand of Garland Peak, the train ride from Denver to Uncle Claude's high-country ranch, the tunnels that probably never existed. Stafford has a way of tipping her reader from a world most realistic to a world most surreal. I was more than willing to go for the ride. ...more
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford is stunning in terms of prose and story in its beautiful evocation of California and Colorado settings, but most memorably in relating the disgust of children for adults. When her brother's lascivious remark passes the line from childhood to adulthood, ("he has literally beat a rivet of hatred into my heart by a remark he passed on the train today") ten-year-old Molly, two years younger than Ralph, despises him and their special bond is broken. Molly is a fanta ...more
Apr 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 100-best-women
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
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever read, and that is not something I find myself saying often. I'm not usually a fan of coming-of-age stories but the two characters of Ralph and Molly are so compelling and unique and Stafford knows how to write about smart people so well that I found myself relating to both of them at different times in the story.Every sentence in this short novel is meticulously done but it isn't showy at all - I cannot wait to read more of her stuff now. I was stunned b ...more
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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.

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“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.” 2 likes
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