Do you know the feeling some will have when you finish reading a really, really great book! That sad, and at the same time elated feeling, that you have just experienced something really special. You read the last paragraph of the story and then back up a page and re-read it again because you just do not want it to end. Then you close the book and hug it to your breast and just sigh, wishing you could read it all over again. ON BEAR MOUNTAIN by Deborah Smith is just such a story!
Deborah Smith, a wonderfully gifted storyteller, has written a definite keeper with On Bear Mountain. It is the story of two families; the Powell's of North Georgia and the Riconni's of New York City. On Bear Mountain tells the story of how these two families become connected and the heartbreaking, sometimes tragic history of their lives. It is also the love story between two wonderful characters Ursula Powell and Quenton Riconni.
Ursula Powell was born in the North Georgia Mountains. Her family, land rich but dirt poor has not needed money to be happy and content. Her father Tommy, an intelligent, loving but eccentric man, while always looking out for Ursula and her mother, believes that love and happiness, not money, is the most important part of life. Bear Mountain, their home has been in the Powell family for many generations. At one time, the black bear used to roam the mountains freely, hence the name. Although hunted and driven out by neighboring settlers, the Powell's had tried many times to re-introduce the bears back to the mountain. To the Powell's, the symbol of the bear had mythical qualities and was directly connected to their families happiness.
Although unsuccessful in bringing the real bears back, Tommy Powell decides to try something else. After reading about a Brooklyn artist by the name of Richard Riconni, and with the financial help of the town matriarch, he commissions the artist to make a sculpture symbolizing the bear. He and the town gather and send the artist large collection of old iron and metal machine parts. It is decided that the sculpture would be placed at college, honoring the contributions made by both the families that founded the town of Tiberville, the Tiber's and Powell's.
Richard Riconni, the Brooklyn artist commissioned to make the sculpture, realizes that this could be the piece that will finally bring recognition as a serious artist to his career. Although happy with the love and his life, his wife Angele, and proud of his young son Quenton, Richard is also driven like many artists by passion and depression. Richard crafts a wonderfully whimsical piece he titles "Bare Wisdom" and sends the sculpture to its rightful home. It arrives in Georgia via the railroad. A huge sculpture of a bear made from old iron machine parts; it is either revered as a masterpiece by the town and the Powell's, or despised by others. Affectionately re-named the Iron Bear, the sculpture is placed at the town college. Over the years, Tommy appoints himself the bear keeper and he lovingly maintains and looks after the sculpture. When the matriarch of the family passes away, her son John Tiber, who has always despised the bear decides to have it torn down. Tommy, proud of what the sculpture has come to mean to the town and it's people, talks him out of it by offering to buy it from him. Although he knows that his family can't really afford it, once paid for, the Iron Bear is moved to the Powell farm on Bear Mountain.
On Bear Mountain is told, strangely enough, in the first person by many of the characters of the book. Deborah Smith is one of the few writers that does this and does it really well. Alternating between Ursula Powell and Quenton Riconni, the story unfolds by giving us the history of each of the families from their perspective. We learn of lives and loves lost and how both of them, each in their own different way, deal with the tragedies that fall upon their connected families. How each deal with what they feel is both their fathers' betrayal and their own guilt. It is the Iron Bear that finally brings these two wonderful characters together and they begin their own love story. A love story, one that is ultimately about healing and forgiveness of self and those dear to us.
Like all of Smith's books, On Bear Mountain, is not a fast paced action read, it is a slow but wonderfully developed story of family, love and life. Readers that enjoy reading a story, which includes the history, and events that drive and form the characters of the story, will laugh and cry as this tale unfolds. On Bear Mountain is another masterpiece by Deborah Smith and the story of these two families will stay with the reader long after the last words are read.