Montana


Fort Peck Dam wetlands
Photo of Fort Peck Dam wetlands by RoguePoet used under a Creative Commons license.

M.R. Montgomery, Saying Goodbye (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).
The subtitle of this book, “A Memoir for Two Fathers,” refers to Montgomery’s father and father-in-law; whose lives he reconstructs as best as he can. His father was a civil engineer who helped build the Fort Peck Dam in Montana in the 1930s and military bases in Scotland and the Philippines in the 1940s. His father-in-law, a Japanese-American who was not interned during World War II because he taught Japanese for the Navy. Buyer beware: Montgomery, who grew up in Chinook, in eastern Montana, and became a reporter for the Boston Globe, finds all sorts of topics interesting, and most of the book is about things other than the Fort Peck Dam.

There are used copies for sale on the web, but I don’t see anyone writing about it, which is too bad. This book deserves readers.

Buy it (cheap!) at Amazon.com.

Blackfoot River
Photo of the Blackfoot River by Bitterroot used under a Creative Commons license.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (University of Chicago, 1992).
The title novella is a classic, a coming-of-age story of two brothers, one the narrator, the other talented and self-destructive, their father, a Presbyterian minister, and their often-futile efforts to understand and help each other. Maclean grew up in Missoula and the story is autobiographical in large part. Fly-fishing here is also a metaphor for religion and family. Robert Redford made a movie of the story in 1992, two years after Maclean died. The volume includes two short stories as well: “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your pal, Jim'” and “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky.”

Here is Google Book Search. The publisher provides this excerpt from the start of the novella. NPR posts this excerpt. The Spokesman-Review’s Dan Webster writes about Maclean and the book. Orrin loves it. So does Schwert. Here are bloggers coming to it from a variety of perspectives:Kevin & Monica Ray, allflylines, Paddy, John, Elizabeth Lowell, and Tim Lewis. These folks discussed the book two days ago. University of Chicago Press says it will launch this Norman Maclean site in the second half of 2008. The Missoulian calls Maclean the 18th most influential Montanan of the last century.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

IMG_6878
Photo by adam used under a Creative Commons license.

James Welch, Winter in the Blood (Penguin, 1986).
First published in 1974, this novel’s protagonist is an unnamed 32-year-old Blackfeet Indian in hard times. He lives with his mother on the reservation, but spends much of his time in an alcoholic haze in the bars of Havre and Malta, Montana, a condition in which more trouble often ensues. He has knee trouble that multiple operations have not fixed, a physical condition mirroring spiritual injury, including survivor’s guilt. Yet there is also the prospect of salvation. Readers unfamiliar with Blackfeet traditions will miss some of what Welch does with this novel, but that is no reasons to pass up the chance to read it.

Here is an appreciation of Welch’s work. Indian Country Today ran this story about his death. Here is The Missoulian‘s obituary and here is the one from The New York Times. Joy Harjo remembered him. So did Jerry Reynolds. Time reviewed Winter in the Blood. J. Robert Lennon appreciates the novel’s dialogue. William Bevis interviewed Welch in 1995. Prairie Mary details Welch’s Blackfeet geneology. This paper by Lorelei Cederstrom discusses (among other things) Welch’s use of myth in the novel. Don Lee profiled Welch in Ploughshares. Here is Google Book Search’s page for James Welch: A Critical Companion, by Mary Jane Lupton. And Tumbleweed met some friendly Germans while reading it.

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Richey, Montana
Photo of Richey, Montana, by goatopolis used under a Creative Commons license.

Larry Watson, Montana 1948 (Washington Square Press, 1995).
A coming-of-age novel about a scandal and a small-town Montana family. The novel is set in 1948 in fictional Bentrock, in the eastern part of the state, not far from the North Dakota border. David Hayden is twelve. His father is the sheriff, and his older brother, Frank, is a war hero and the town doctor. A short novel, but with no wasted effort — there is more here than in many novels twice the size.

Watson’s site has a bio. And here is his bio at Marquette, where he teaches. Watson was interviewed by Cheryl Poch for Livingston Reads! An audio file also is available on that site. Liane Ellison Norman reviews it and Watson’s novel Justice for Sojourners.
Other reviews from Notes in the Margin, Samuel, David G. Markham, and Big Sky. John Clayton rewrote the novel with a happier ending.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana/Idaho border in the distance
Photo of the Bitterroot Mountains by bitterroot used under a Creative Commons license.

Rick Bass and Elizabeth Hughes, Winter: Notes from Montana (Mariner, 1992).
Rick Bass is a naturalist and a fiction writer; his wife, Elizabeth Hughes, is an illustrator. They moved to the Yaak Valley in Montana, a “wild, magical valley” with only thirty-odd year-round inhabitants, not far from Canada and Idaho and not close to anything much. This is a sort of journal of their first winter in “the last and largest spot of unroaded green on our highway map,” without electricity, phones, or paved roads.

Ursula Hegi reviewed Winter in The New York Times. Google Book Search has excerpts, among other things. You can listen to an interview Bass gave to Don Swaim in 1991 “about lifestyle and writing.” A 1993 interview with Bass and Scott Slovic is here. Bass’s 1994 short story, “The Earth Divers,” is here.

Buy this book at Amazon.com.