The Mountain Lion
by Jean Stafford, afterword by Kathryn Davis
Eight-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable, in league with each other against the stodgy and stupid routines of school and daily life; against their prim mother and prissy older sisters; against the world of authority and perhaps the world itself. One summer they are sent from the genteel Los Angeles suburb that is their home to backcountry Colorado, where their uncle Claude has a ranch. There the children encounter an enchanting new world—savage, direct, beautiful, untamed—to which, over the next few years, they will return regularly, enjoying a delicious double life. And yet at the same time this other sphere, about which they are both so passionate, threatens to come between their passionate attachment to each other. Molly dreams of growing up to be a writer, yet clings ever more fiercely to the special world of childhood. Ralph for his part feels the growing challenge, and appeal, of impending manhood. Youth and innocence are hurtling toward a devastating end.
Download the Reading Group Guide for The Mountain Lion. by Jean Stafford, afterword by Kathryn Davis
The Mountain Lion is likely to beguile many a reader into thinking that he has hold of merely a shrewdly perceptive and amusing novel of children, when what he really has in his hand is a charge of psychological dynamite.
—Joseph Henry Jackson, San Francisco Chronicle
Like Flaubert and Eudora Welty, Miss Stafford is a master of making the objects in a room exhibit a dumb and eloquent presence…The Mountain Lion is one of the best novels about adolescence in American literature.
—Guy Davenport, The New York Times
It's a terrific book, witty and smart as Stafford always was, and kind in its treatment of these two strangely irresistible children.
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
A wonderful record of childhood and adolescence…I do not know where to turn in contemporary fiction for a more wonderful recording of the sights and smells, the emotions and values, the hates and passions of childhood and youth…[a] beautifully modeled tale.
—Howard Mumford Jones, The New York Times
The Mountain Lion has all the form, design and severe selectivity of a controlled and conscious work of art. Its characters are painfully real, interesting as individuals and significant as representatives of various attitudes toward life.
—Orville Prescott, The New York Times
The Mountain Lion remains a brilliant achievement, an exploration of adolescence to set beside Carson McCullers's masterwork The Member of the Wedding.
—Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books
Its riches are many—in language, in irony, in insights into life's ambiguities.
—Paperbacks New and Noteworthy, The New York Times
For the brutality and correctness of its ending, I think only Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian competes with The Mountain Lion…among American literary children, Ralph and Molly have peers only in Holden Caulfield, Scout and Jem Finch, and Huckleberry Finn.
Miss Stafford is, fundamentally, out for much bigger game than a mere couple of troubled kids. It is life itself—the painful state of being human and conscious—that Miss Stafford's penetrating little story examines and vilifies. For what Molly and Ralph suffer in exaggerated form and almost unremittingly in the pages of The Mountain Lion is but the malaise which from time to time torments us all—that recurrent sense of pain and apprehension which is a function, or at any rate an inevitable by-product, of the state of consciousness itself.
—New York Herald Tribune
Jean Stafford writes with the relentless and dazzling brilliance of an avenging angel wielding a white-hot sword. She has a sound feeling for and great appreciation of the simple ways of simple people.
—Florence Haxton Bullock, The New York Herald Tribune Book Review
Hard to match for subtlety and understanding…A sharply focused study rather than a broad exploration of adolescence, written wittily, lucidly, and with great respect for the resources of the language.
—The New Yorker