Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape

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Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape

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  • Opportunity, Montana
    Opportunity, Montana  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Memoir, history, and the unequal application of economic justice come together in Tyer’s deeply felt and sharply penned nonfiction debut. Tyer’s reportage spotlights the process by which the tiny Montana town Opportunity became the dumping ground for millions of tons of toxic copper mining waste. The waste was uncovered as the result of a dam removal that helped beautify Missoula. Tyer also puts the fate of Opportunity in the context of Montana’s 19th- and 20th-century mining history, which he documents in crisp, entertaining style. A long list of costly toxic Superfund cleanup sites follows. Tyer laces his withering descriptions with an outsider’s appreciation for the myth and reality of the 21st-century West, some heartfelt words on the pleasures of canoeing wild rivers, and a moving exploration of his strained relationship with his late father. It’s a complex tangle of themes, but the book finds a concise focus when Tyer observes the “perverse poetry” and grim logic of pouring staggering amounts of waste into a place that’s already hideously polluted, because “the waste had to go somewhere. Waste always does. It doesn’t disappear. It just gets kicked down the road.” Remarkably, Tyer paints sympathetic portraits of the environmentalists, cleanup officials, and resilient survivors of an environmental catastrophe who are trying to keep living in the only home they’ve ever known. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Tyer deftly weaves memoir and reportage in a tale of the reclamation of a river and the failed reclamation of a father's love. The Clark Fork River in southeastern Montana, writes the author, was "the most fucked up river I've ever met." The culprit was copper. The river's watershed had plenty of it, and as Edison's light bulb ushered in the age of electricity and hence the need for copper, millionaire owners and hardscrabble workers mined the area literally to death. A century of mining and smelting had left behind a river poisoned by tons of lead, arsenic, toxic heavy metals and other detritus of a blind "attachment to progress, and estrangement from consequence." In the 1980s, reclamation of the river and region began and is ongoing downstream near Missoula. But the issue remains: where to put the tons of waste dredged up. The answer was upstream, at Opportunity, Mont., a town of apparently no particular consequence already surrounded by 4,000 acres of dumped mine waste. The new poison would simply go on top of the old waste, and Opportunity would unfortunately be collateral damage. Tyer explores how and why this happened, as well as the lives and disappointments of Opportunity's residents. He also turns to thoughts of his father, a man he didn't like and who didn't like him, and whose death a decade earlier made reconciliation an impossibility. Waste, as with regret, never goes away. The debt owed Opportunity, and the debt owed a father who perhaps gave his son more than the son realized, maybe cannot be paid: "Better perhaps to just bury the debt….You can't save everything." In lesser hands, such a story could be maudlin or gimmicky, but Tyer's evocative prose of quiet melancholy and gentle humor avoids such pitfalls.
From the Publisher
“Mr. Tyer has written a lovely book, searing in its anger, about a beautiful but much abused place.” Larry McMurtry

“This previously neglected subject provides a great way to talk about the crazy doubleness of Montana, a state we've idealized and plundered for two hundred years. Opportunity's story lines stretch not only across the state but around the country and the world, and Brad Tyer is just the person to follow them. His writing is straightforward, heartfelt, and elegant.” —Ian Frazier, author of Travels in Siberia and Great Plains

“Tyer’s evocative prose of quiet melancholy and gentle humor.”—Kirkus Reviews 

“That the most scapegoated place in Montana is called ‘Opportunity’ is an irony so rich that a skilled blacksmith could forge it into swords, or plowshares, as the spirit moved. Brad Tyer is that blacksmith. Deploying a unique blend of journalistic acumen, lyric scholarship, and canoemanship, Tyer has fashioned an emblematic history, biopsy, and eulogy not just of a river and town, but of the thankfully dying extraction juggernauts of the post-industrial West.” —David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K

“Memoir, history, and the unequal application of economic justice come together in Tyer’s deeply felt and sharply penned nonfiction debut.”—Publisher's Weekly

“Brad Tyer, in this excellently reported book, asks a fundamental question: is it fair that Missoula, a thriving little city, gets its poisons cleaned up at the expense of Opportunity? Citizens in Opportunity don’t think so. As the globe industrializes, even more toxic waste is being created, and while we can move it around, we can’t make it go away. Pretty soon we'll be eager to mend our ways. But how? We should all be reading Opportunity, Montana.” —William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The Nature of Generosity

“An intelligent, insightful, and finely crafted book that channels outrage into clear thinking.”—Booklist

“Industrial progress always leaves a hidden country of spills and blight. In this powerful and poignant memoir, Brad Tyer takes us up the river into one of America’s own ravaged quarters and asks important questions about how we lock away parts of our history. This is not just a book about burying a deadly inheritance; it’s about fathers and sons and the erasing flow of time. An amazing debut from one who knows the country intimately.” —Tom Zoellner, author of Uranium: War Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World

“Tyer blends nature writing and memoir, focused on his estrangement from a perfectionist father, with cultural history and journalistic reporting, including interviews with a variety of local players. The mix can seem a bit unwieldy. But the result is an engaging, almost breathtaking bit of nonfiction.” —Billings Gazette 

“When a story about slag heaps and sluices can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you know you're holding rare ore.” —Missoula Independent
 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807003299
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 950,080
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.94 (d)

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