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Book Commentary/Review – STANCE OF WONDER by Mark Rodell March 24, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, climbing, Mark Rodell, novels, Stance of Wonder, Thailand, Yosemite.
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Stance of Wonder by Mark Rodell is an engaging novel that tells the fictional biography of virtuoso climber Conrad Flowers. The book delivers authentic detail surrounding various climbing adventures reflecting Rodell’s own experiences and intimate knowledge of climbing. But like any good novel, Stance of Wonder is about more than climbing. It is about fascinating characters and their intertwined lives, and about ideas that provoke consideration of larger themes.

We meet Conrad Flowers in adolescence during the 1960s as he faces the consequences of losing his parents in a climbing accident. He joins his eccentric uncle in the mountains of eastern California where he comes of age moving back and forth between Bishop and Yosemite. He hones his climbing skills in Yosemite, building a reputation, and building friendships with a cast of characters whose stories also resonate with quirky details. This cast includes the ballerina from San Francisco, with a Bolivian father and Russian mother, who comes to Yosemite and falls in love with climbing. Rodell draws us into these characters, and has us wondering how they will come together, suspecting we will follow them into young adulthood and see how they will mature from their colorful teen backgrounds. But Stance of Wonder does not stay on that predictable course. Because successful novels are also about plot.

About two-thirds of the way through, Stance of Wonder takes off in a totally unanticipated direction. Conrad Flowers finds himself assaulted with a catastrophe that threatens to destroy the essence of who he is. At first he seems to succumb to the terrible blow life has dealt him. But from the verge of imminent death, with an apathetic Flowers far from the mountains he loves to climb, sinking into reckless self-destruction, he emerges with his core intact. Stance of Wonder then shifts back to where we suspected we were going in the first place, but taking us on a ride we had not anticipated. Conrad Flowers’ life concludes in the only way possible for this character, but with an ending satisfying for its eccentric flourishes and exotic setting.

There is an element of understatement, of sublime subtlety in Rodell’s style of narrative and story-telling that brings extra intensity and power to the events and internal lives of the characters. Rodell illuminates the Conrad Flowers character through the eyes of a narrator telling his fictional biography. Rodell also uses fictional journal entries and letters to delve deeper into the internal insights of the characters. Stance of Wonder will appeal to readers who like a good story dealing with life’s detours and the struggle to overcome the consequences those detours create. And climbing enthusiasts should have a hard time putting it down!

Full disclosure: Mark Rodell was a close high school friend of mine, but a friend I lost contact with for nearly forty years as our lives spun off in completely different directions. Through the connective power of the internet, we recently reestablished contact, though Mark lives over 8,000 miles away from me in Thailand. As Mark pointed out during our recent exchanges, we both ended up embracing writing—we apparently shared a common connection with this form of expression though neither of us hinted at this during our high school friendship. I am genuinely thrilled to spread the word about Stance of Wonder—though he is my friend, I would not write so glowingly about his writing if I did not mean every word.


Amazon link to the paperback edition: