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Montana 1948: A Novel

Montana 1948: A Novel

4.3 131
by Larry Watson

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“From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them… “ So begins David Hayden’s story of what happened in Montana in 1948. The events of that cataclysmic summer permanently alter twelve-year-old David’s


“From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them… “ So begins David Hayden’s story of what happened in Montana in 1948. The events of that cataclysmic summer permanently alter twelve-year-old David’s understanding of his family: his father, a small-town sheriff; his remarkably strong mother; David’s uncle Frank, a war hero and respected doctor; and the Haydens’ Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, whose revelations turn the family’s life upside down as she relates how Frank has been molesting his female Indian patients. As their story unravels around David, he learns that truth is not what one believes it to be, that power is abused, and that sometimes one has to choose between family loyalty and justice.

Editorial Reviews

My favorite novel of 1993.... Utterly mesmerizing.... There's something eminently universal in Watson's ponderings on the human condition, and it's refracted through a nearly perfect eye for character, place and the rhythms of language. Fiction at its finest is sometimes hard to find; Montana 1948 amply fits the bill.
—Chris Faatz
San Francisco Chronicle
Montana 1948 stands out as a work of art...
—Susan Petro
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Larry Watson is one of those good writers few people know about, a writer whose work is worthy of prizes.... The style of Montana 1948 is as thin, clear and crisp as a North Dakota Wind.
—Annick Smith
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A stark tragedy unfolds in Watson's taut, memorable novel, the winner of the publisher's National Fiction Prize. During the summer of 1948, a solid, middle-class family in a small Montana town is wrenched apart by scandal, murder and suicide. Narrator David Hayden tells the story as an adult looking back at the traumatic events that scarred yet matured him when he was 12. His pious Lutheran mother informs his father, Wesley, the county sheriff, that David's uncle Frank, a doctor, has been molesting and raping Native American girls during routine medical exams. Uncle Frank's latest victim is Marie Little Soldier, the Haydens' Sioux housekeeper. When Marie dies, presumably of pneumonia, David provides key evidence that implicates his uncle in her murder. Frank is arrested by his brother, who locks the confessed sexual abuser in the basement to save him from the embarrassment of jail. David confronts his uncle's racism and the evasions and denials his family has constructed to cover up the affair. In crisp, restrained prose, Watson ( In a Dark Time ) indelibly portrays the moral dilemma of a family torn between justice and loyalty; by implication, he also illuminates some dark corners of our national history. (Sept.)
Library Journal
A young Sioux woman tossing with fever on a cot; a father begging his wife for help; a mother standing uncertainly in her kitchen with a 12-gauge shotgun: from these fragments of memory, evoked by the narrator as the novel opens, Watson builds a simple but powerful tale. It is Montana in 1948, and young David Hayden's father, Wesley, is sheriff of their small town--a position he inherited from his domineering father. Wesley is overshadowed by his older brother, Frank, a war hero who is now the town doctor. When Marie, the Sioux woman who works for the Haydens, fall ill, she adamantly resists being examined by Frank. Some probing reveals that Frank has been molesting the Indian women in his care. Wesley's dilemma--should he turn in his own brother?--is intensified when Marie is found dead and David confesses that he saw his uncle near the house before she died. The moral issues, and the consequences of following one's conscience, are made painfully evident here. Watson is to be congratulated for the honesty of his writing and the purity of his prose. Highly recommended.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
Bill Ott
The relationship of landscape to personality is a familiar theme, especially in western literature, but it may never have been explored with as much sensitivity and as fine an eye for detail as Watson manages in this stunning coming-of-age novel, the winner of the 1993 Milkweed National Fiction Prize The "harshness of the land and the flattening effect of the wind" made life hard in Mercer County, Montana, in 1948, "so much so that nothing was left over for raising hell or making trouble." Well, maybe a little something, as the shocking events of David Watson's twelfth summer reveal: his father, the sheriff of Bentrock, Montana, forced to accuse David's Uncle Frank, a war hero and physician, of molesting numerous Indian women and murdering one of them, David's family's housekeeper; Frank's subsequent jailing, not in the city jail but in David's basement; and, finally, Frank's suicide, his body found by David's father: "Then my father's tears broke loose, one more briny fluid to mingle on the basement floor. The action unfolds circuitously, as David remembers how he pieced together what was happening, mostly through eavesdropping (an activity at which every only child excels). Yes, the novel is a kind of thriller and certainly a page turner, but, moreover, it is a quiet, almost meditative reflection on the hopelessly complex issue of doing the right thing--and on the courage it takes to face one's demons: "The shock of hearing this about Uncle Frank was doubled because my mother was saying these words. "Rape. Breasts. Penis." These were words I never heard my mother use--never . . ." The unspoken life of any small town, especially a small, hardscrabble western town, contains a motherlode of raw emotion, morally ambiguous and potentially devastating. Watson mines that vein with both unflinching honesty and complete respect, both for the dignity of the people and the implacability of the landscape. Inevitably, this spare, poetic novel will be compared with Norman Maclean's "A River Runs through It"; the comparison is apt on some levels--both explore the effect of cataclysmic events on naturally reticent people--but Watson deserves his own space under Montana's Big Sky.
Howard Frank Mosher
This story is as fresh and clear as the trout streams fished by its narrator....As universal in its themes as it is original in its peculiarity, Montana 1948 is a significant and eloquent addition to the fiction of the American West and to contemporary American fiction in general. -- Washington Post Book World
Chris Faatz
My favorite novel of 1993....utterly mesmerizing...there's something eminently universal in Watson's ponderings on the human condition, and its a fact that there's a nearly perfect eye for character, place, and the ribbons of language. Fiction at its finest is sometimes hard to find: Montana 1948 amply fits the bill. -- The Nation

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What People are Saying About This

Louise Erdich
A beautiful novel about the meaning of place and evolution of courage....A wonderful book.

Meet the Author

Larry Watson was born in 1947 in Rugby, North Dakota. He grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and married his high school sweetheart. He received his BA and MA from the University of North Dakota, his Ph.D. from the creative writing program at the University of Utah, and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College. Watson has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 2004) and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Larry Watson is the author of five novels and a chapbook of poetry. Watson’s fiction has been published in more than ten foreign editions, and has received prizes and awards from Milkweed Press, Friends of American Writers, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association, New York Public Library, Wisconsin Library Association, and Critics’ Choice. Montana 1948 was nominated for the first IMPAC Dublin International Literary Prize. The movie rights to Montana 1948 and Justice have been sold to Echo Lake Productions and White Crosses has been optioned for film.

He has published short stories and poems in Gettysburg Review, New England Review, North American Review, Mississippi Review, and other journals and quarterlies. His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and other periodicals. His work has also been anthologized in Essays for Contemporary Culture, Imagining Home, Off the Beaten Path, Baseball and the Game of Life, The Most Wonderful Books, These United States, and Writing America.

Watson taught writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for 25 years before joining the faculty at Marquette University in 2003.

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Montana, 1948 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 131 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is fast paced, brilliantly populated, and beautifully set. The author does a great job of articulating his alienated characters over the unforgiving landscape he has created. I recommend it, but with one reservation... it's too short.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Montana1948, a novel by Larry Watson, deserves a 4 star rating because of its meaningful, relevant content and well-written exploration of the depth and changes of character of the main personas as a result of making difficult choices under immense pressure. Montana 1948 lays out the experiences of David Hayden, a 12 year old boy, during one summer in the small town of Bentrock. From the very first page, the author indicates the significance of the events that are to follow and provides snapshots of a few particularly vivid moments. Soon after the characters have been described the action proceeds and tension begins to build between the characters. By the time the final chapter is reached David had left behind his childhood and been forced to drastically change his perspective on both his family and the world they live in. As stated in the 1993 book review by Booklist, Montana 1948 is a ¿reflection on the hopelessly complex issue of doing the right thing ¿ and on the courage it takes to face one¿s demons.¿ Many times throughout the narrative characters have questioned the `right choice¿, as when Len, the deputy, spoke of learning when to look away, as when David¿s father decided to lock his brother in the basement, and as when, at the conclusion, David felt that he had lost all belief in the rule of law. David¿s father faced the knowledge of his brother¿s crimes and stood up against his father to bring Frank to justice. Secondly, as stated in the above mentioned book review, Montana 1948 also explores the ¿cataclysmic events on naturally reticent people.¿ David¿s perspective of nearly all the people in his family life is forever altered by his exposure to other, hidden sides of them. Because armed men came into their yard, David saw his mother use a shotgun. Because Marie spoke out, David realized that his uncle was not as wonderful as he seemed. Because of the combination of nearly unbearable living conditions and the admitted guilt of Frank, David¿s mother and father completely switched sides his mother now asked that Frank be released and his father could not do so. When faced with such a stark admission, he could no longer pretend nothing was happening.
hannah1028 More than 1 year ago
This short book is one that expresses the importance of justice, family, and loyalty, as well as decision making and power. Decision making and loyalty are closely tied in this book. You also begin to question yourself as you read. Would you stay loyal to justice and the good of the whole, or abuse your power to stay loyal to your family? These intriguing questions will keep you interested and wanting to read on. This quick read is one that is sure to keep your attention and keep you thinking.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The ideas Larry Watson brings to light about human behavior transcend time and cultural barriers. However, Mr. Watson's five star novel, Montana 1948, is more than just a story. Its pages tell the true story of life's fairness and the rewards of doing the right thing. Although Barbra Finkelstein of The New York Times Book Review says that the novel, ¿¿depends on cliched characters to lug the story to its conclusion,¿ I disagree. The ability to relate to the narrator¿s family and upbringing is one of this story¿s greatest attributes. The stereotypical the characters add a sense of familiarity for many readers, and allow them to better immerse themselves in the plot. Also, the story itself did much more than ¿lug¿. Its suggestions about how our society were thought provoking such as in the part where the narrator recounts how the people in town would often ¿look the other way¿ when faced with problems such as his uncles molestation of the Indian girls. In addition to this, its unpredictable twists leave the reader unable to turn the pages fast enough. Wesley, the narrator¿s father, is the town sheriff and is faced with a, ¿moral dilemma,¿ as Publishers Weekly puts it. His All-American brother has been molesting Indian girls and may have murdered one. It is then that Wesley must decide between treating the situation as a family member and simply letting it slide out of loyalty or as the county¿s Sheriff with the intent of prosecuting this criminal to the fullest extent. When he decides that prosecution would do nothing but embarrass the family name, he plans to let his brother off the hook. However, once his brother admits to and tells explicitly of his crimes without any show of remorse, Wesley becomes determined to bring him to justice. I agree with Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal when she says, ¿The moral issues, and the consequences of following one¿s conscience, are made painfully evident here.¿ Mr. Watson does not make life out to be a fairytale. When the narrator and his family are forced to move away from their home because of the choice they made to do what they thought was right Mr. Watson stated simply the truth that often times the ¿good guys¿ don¿t win.
Ilovemister 8 months ago
This book was wonderful. couldn't put it down. I don't think that this book is for 14-18 age group. I didn't even realize that was what it was marketed for. This book is great for adults. Great writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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DStan29 More than 1 year ago
I really liked this novel, Larry did a wonderful view of capturing the words. This deserves a 5 star rating, This is a short book but it does a very great job of explaining what has happened back then in the late 40's and what the consequences were, and the fact that there wasn't much technology to prove anything. This book expresses about an importance of family, justice and how loyal others are. This novel is very clear but it is somewhat confusing. I thought this book would be boring, as a High School student, but it was quite the intensity, and  it was some things that I hadn't expected to be in this book. This can teach you about what you should/n't do, because of consequences. Great Book...Loved it. It is a very hard book to put down, the details are amazing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story was interesting as such but not much more and it was just a tad over 100 pages. I noted that it was reduced from $14.00 to the $11.48 I overpaid for it. I read in no time at all and I was furious. TOTAL rip-off!
AlaskanReader More than 1 year ago
Montana 1948 marks the second book by Larry Watson that will make my top ten list of books for 2014. I loved the characterizations, the story, the narrator, and the writing overall. The story is narrated by 12 year-old David Hayden of Bentrock, Montana. He is part of THE Hayden family, his grandfather a powerful and rich rancher. His father, Wes, is a lawyer turned sheriff, and his mother, Gail, works at the courthouse. The family seems very happy and David is a precocious and inward boy, enjoying the land and his horse Nutty, that he keeps at his grandfather's ranch. Marie, a Sioux Indian, is the housekeeper and babysitter for David's family and David loves her. She is kind, powerful and efficient. One day, David hears Marie coughing and realizes that she is ill. She keeps saying that she doesn't want to see a doctor. What she means is that she doesn't want to see Frank, Wes's brother, who is one of the two town doctors. Of course, the Haydens always call Frank for medical reasons as he is family. However, Marie is adamant and when the Haydens call Frank Marie insists that Gail be in the room during the examination. She tells Gail later that Frank has molested several of the young women on the reservation and that it's a widely known fact. The story deals with issues of integrity and loyalty. Does Wes deal with these allegations against his brother or does he let them go? Frank is, after all a war hero and a respected citizen with a beautiful wife. Wes's father is very powerful and Frank is the golden son while Wes is second best. How will the town deal with this information if it is to come out? David hears all that is going on by listening to the adults and it is refreshing to hear a narrator that I believe is reliable. It is also refreshing to hear the story narrated by an adult from his twelve-year old perspective. The novel is short at 169 pages but it is long on emotions, psychological intrigue, and brilliance. Larry Watson is a writer that I have recently discovered but I have ordered all his books. There is a book of connected short stories about the Hayden clan that I think will be exceptionally good. I am thrilled to have discovered Larry Watson. As a lover of literary fiction, I can think of no better writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of story that you want to share with your best friends. The characters are well developed and the plot engaging. I finshed the book wishing there were more pages to turn. I've ordered several of Larry Watson's books and that's the best compliment I can think of to convey how much I liked the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one of those books that you cant put down. It makes.you wonder whats gonna happe next.and i love thie twist at the end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My English teacher is reading this to us and i find it very good and wish that class would not end so we could finish it and find out what happens in the end. I recomed this book to other high school students who love to read.
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pjpick More than 1 year ago
My first book of Larry Watson's and I would definitely read another of his again. Although the synopsis reads as if this were a mystery it is not. It's just a coming of age event in a teenager's life described in the no nonsense writing style of most Western writers. A hearty thumbs up for this one. Can't wait to read its prequel-esque partner, "Justice."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This relatively short book can, and unless you start on it very late in the day, will most likely be read by you in one sitting because your mind demands to know what happens next. Completely different than what I espected, but in a good way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
youngspanion More than 1 year ago
Montana 1948 shows how a small town can be subjected to politics and justice at the same time. The father of a young boy is the law in a town that has many American Indians living in it. After the death of one of the young women from the reservation, questions begin to arise about the Sherriff's brother who by the way is the town Doctor. The father of the two men owns a lot of political capital earned while he was the Sherriff of the same town years earlier. The Story comes to a head and the conflict within the family of the young boy which includes the grand parents and his mom, who is the inlaw to everyone involved. Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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