“Fallen Mountains” is Kimi Cunningham Grant’s first novel, but hopefully not her last. The book details life in the fictional town of Fallen Mountains, Pennsylvania. Grant grew up in Huntingdon, which lends to the small-town Central Pennsylvania feel when she describes the residents of this close-knit community. In fact, Grant lives here now and teaches in a local school district.
Secrets abound in this novel as the main character, Transom Shultz, returns to his hometown of Fallen Mountains and then disappears. The reader soon learns that Transom had been involved in a horrible incident 17 years earlier that seems to have come back to haunt the town. Could Transom’s disappearance be revenge, or simply an accident? Transom, Sheriff Redifer and Thomas, otherwise known as Possum, are the only ones who know for sure everything that happened all those years ago and why.
An environmental issue important to our area of Pennsylvania is also covered in this book. Behind the scenes and yet in the middle of it all is the fracking and logging operation at the Hardy family farm. Chase Hardy continued to live there with his grandfather after his grandmother passed away. But after his grandfather dies, Chase learns about the financial troubles the farm had been experiencing over the last few years. Left with no way to save the farm, Chase is forced to sign over the family’s land to his childhood friend Transom, whose deceitful intentions were to make money from the land all along. While fracking and the destruction it causes aren’t the focus of this book, the reader is reminded of the changes that are occurring around Chase and the town because of it. The well water is now brown and undrinkable, the landscape is no longer beautiful and the workmen’s presence is forever in the background of the town’s activities. Sadly, even before Transom disappears, Chase had learned that stripping land is what Transom does for a living and that he returned to Fallen Mountains for reasons other than connecting with old friends.
The best part of this book, in my opinion, is the relationships between the residents of Fallen Mountains. For example, Chase Hardy and Laney Moore had been friends with Transom since they were all children playing among the farmlands and the forests on the Hardy family property. But as with any relationship, particularly those that have moved into adulthood, things change, and people are often not who you once thought they were. From intense interactions between these characters to simple, superficial interactions between side characters, Grant has captured the dynamics of small-town life and relationships beautifully. As I read the novel, I found myself thinking of people I come into contact with every day in my own hometown. And in Fallen Mountains, as in many small towns, tragedy can work to bring everyone closer together.
This novel is like having a conversation with Grant—or better yet, like sitting on a park bench in your own Central Pennsylvania town and watching the people, many of whom you’ve known for 20, 30 or 40 years. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and reminisce, as I did, with Grant on small-town life in Pennsylvania, and enjoy a novel that could easily be one of the best of the year.
Reviewer Jessica Moore teaches English at the Pennsylvania Highlands Community College in Johnstown.