Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson


I read this based on the enthusiasm of KevinfromCanada's blog; he used a word he rarely uses to describe it:  exquisite.  The confounding thing about this book is that I can't quite figure out what makes it exquisite.  How is it that the author ratchets up the intensity?  I'm not sure I will find the answer to that question.

The story is set in a part of the country I've never been in (I've gotten as far as South Dakota and it is a region that draws me in) and the time is 1948 when I was only 3 years old.  But so much of the life he describes felt like the one I experienced in the 1950s in the countryside of Virginia.  So I loved the book because the place and time feel so real to me. 

The narrator is a man in his 50s remembering events that occurred when he was 12.  In the Prologue, we learn that the events are traumatic and will split his family, the most powerful family in town, apart.  The narrator's father is the lawyer-turned-sheriff, his choices having been dictated by his father.  The dreadful events result in the sheriff having to make untenable choices, Greek myth type of choices.  We learn about the anguish in the decision-making process through the 12 year old's overheard conversations.  The process by which the sheriff came to his decision was admirable; he was a deliberate and conflicted hero, not an instinctive one.  I guess the unlikely hero is the most appealing one.

Perhaps this is the heart of the wonder of this book; the ordinary man whose decency trumps all.

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