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Review – Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

Montana 1948
by Larry Watson
175 pages
Published 1993

We read Montana 1948 for my book club. It was recommended by This One Lady who’s in another book club (I’m totally jealous) and they read it like 10 years ago. The book was brought up when someone said something about characters and the length of a book, and This One Lady said, Oh yes, authors can create great characters in relatively short books. Whoever had made the original statement asked for an example, and This One Lady said Montana 1948. We all agreed to read it for the book club right then and there (which was seriously a miracle).

The story is told by David Hayden. He’s an adult but he tells the story as he saw it when he was 12 years old. David’s dad is the sheriff in Bentrock, Montana, and they have a Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, who gets sick and won’t go see a doctor. So instead of insisting she go see a doctor, they bring a doctor to her. Lucky for them David’s uncle, Frank, is a doctor…but when Marie flips out and doesn’t want Frank alone with her, David’s dad is forced to research some allegations.

This book was excellent. The author’s brevity allows the reader to fill in any blanks. The characters are wonderfully alive and rich, behaving in ways that seemed “real”. The story felt as if it could have happened, and probably did happen somewhere.

This story is about what happens when a community, when a family, is confronted with evil. David, though, makes this observation at the end of the book:

For myself, I eventually became a history teacher in a Rochester, Minnesota, high school. I did not – do not – believe in the purity and certainty of the study of history over law. Not at all. Quite the opposite, I find history endlessly amusing, knowing, as I do, that the record of any human community might omit stories of sexual abuse, murder, suicide….Who knows – perhaps any region’s most dramatic, most sensational stories were not played out in the public view but were confined to small, private places. A doctor’s office, say. A white frame house on a quiet street. So no matter what the historical documents might say, I feel free to augment them with whatever lurid or comical fantasy my imagination might concoct. And know that the truth might not be far off. These musings, of course, are for my private enjoyment. For my students I keep a straight face and pretend that the text tells the truth, whole and unembellished.

Isn’t that written beautifully? What a powerful statement.

All but two people in our book club absolutely loved this book, and the people who didn’t love it liked it. The concensus of a book being great does not create the same discussion or passion when some like the book and some really DON’T like the book. But that’s an okay price to pay for discussing such an amazing piece of work.

I know I haven’t done this book justice, so will you listen if I just tell you to go read this book? Please? Put it on hold at your library, mooch it, get it from Amazon, do whatever you have to do…just go read this book!

Rating: 95 out of 100

After reading this book, This One Lady said there’s a prequel and a sequel (both written after the fact), and having fallen in love with yet another author, I went and scouted them out. I’ve now mooched all but one of the author’s works. Far from displacing any other authors who are already Loves of My Life, Larry Watson just adds to an already bursting heart.

Check out the author’s website here. But be careful…there are spoilers for Montana 1948. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Want to read another review of this book? Jessica’s in my book club, too.

| Tags: , , , , 14 comments »

14 Responses to “Review – Montana 1948 by Larry Watson”

  1. Heather

    Cool! It sounds like your book club is going strong – yeah! And this one does sound interesting. I especially like that it’s a short one – I’m so far behind on my reading list that I feel guilty adding anything substantial. ~LOL~


  2. Bobbi's Book Nook

    Great review! Now I’m interested in this book.


  3. Kim L

    Sounds great! I’ve never even heard of this one. Thanks for the rec!


  4. Ruth

    I’d never heard of this book before your post, but I’m off to BookMooch to hunt for a copy. Thanks for the recommendation!


  5. bybee

    I’m right behind Ruth, headed for bookmooch…


  6. Nicole

    Your review make me want to read this again! I read it in a book club too, so I love I that I am getting a different perspective than the ones offered in my book club.

    My book club read it about 3 years ago and I think with the exception of 1 or two people, everyone really disliked it. One of our members at the time had strong feminist leanings and I think was horrified by the allegations and another thought the book was poorly written and simplistic. At the time I wasn’t writing down notes on books so I can barely remember what I thought, maybe that it was simply written. I didn’t feel so vehemently about it as others did. I just remember the drama it caused. We lost a member over this book.


  7. mellymel

    ooh sounds nice & fast! adding it. like reading nicole’s comments too. it all goes in the collective pot and gets stirred around. yum.


  8. Alyce

    I’ve added this to my list of books to read. It’s amazing how two book clubs can have such differing views. I’ll be interested to see what it’s like.


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  10. bkclubcare

    I read this post a long time ago (oh – only last month?! I see I didn’t comment then… HUH?) and bookmooched it right away. I am intrigued that Nicole’s club had such dramatic response to it! I’m having the hub read it now and then I’m going to pass it around to my friends to get their rx…


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  14. Lisa

    I found out about this wonderful book through an article about banned and challenged books in the public schools. I had never heard of the author or the novel. You can imagine my surprise when I read this amazing novel!!! I was immediately captivated by the story! I could not put it down. I work in a high school library and I am trying to get as many social studies and english teachers to read this great novel. It’s not everyday you stumble onto a gem—but I sure did! I want to thank the parents of the high school who wanted this novel banned from their school library and classrooms. I would have never discovered this book if it hadn’t been for their narrow-minded thinking!


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