Love and climbing

From the Amazon reviews of Forget Me Not: A Memoir by Jennifer Lowe-Anker — and even, if taken out of context, a sentence or two in Krakauer’s forward — I had to assume this was some sort of angry or at least pitiable self portrait of a woman abandoned in life and death by her selfish climber husband. Or, perhaps, it would be a regrettable story of an obsessed, stupid, unloving climber who finally got out of the way of his family’s happiness.

It is neither, to my eyes. This book is a beautiful but realistic love story. Lowe-Anker’s writing about her late husband is the portrait of an intensely focused person who struggled but mostly found a way to live and love outside of the mountains that kept him sane. And it is the story of a couple that each found commercial and personal success in their respective obsessions, following years of struggling as a young couple of unconventional career aspirations on both sides. When commercial success came to the climber, it obligated him to commercial trips, first guiding and then sponsored trips. At the time of his unfortunate end, the story is that of this couple struggling to reconcile their respective needs for fulfillment and employment with Lowe’s frequent absences. For a couple with that big issue to overcome, though, they seem by Lowe-Anker’s recounting to have had a deeper and more passionate relationship than a good number of couples whose relative lack of passion for life gives them more time together.

Lowe-Anker writes wonderfully, and she includes here a good deal of the writing of the late Lowe, enough to see he had a deep appreciation for life, for her and for their children, not just for climbing (he also had a great gift for writing expressively and intelligently). She is a serious climber herself (or was; as she states, parenthood increased her drive for self preservation), and she conveys clearly the concepts necessary to understand the climbing stories she relays. I read this as a frequent reader of climbing literature, but one could read it just as easily without that background.

This book is well worth the read for any number of reasons: if you climb, if you know someone who climbs, if you know and can’t understand someone who is the 12-cups-of-coffee-per-day-can’t-sit-still-must-achieve-something type, if you love Bozeman, if you read any and all climbing books, or if you want to read a touching story of two strong people making their way through the world together.