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 So no matter what the historical documents might say, I feel free to augment them with whatever lurid or comical fantasy my imagination might concoct.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.