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Homestead by Annick Smith


by Annick Smith

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I bought this book after reading an excerpt from it in another book, a collection of essays from OUTSIDE magazine. As it turned out, that particular essay is probably the best part of HOMESTEAD. Not that the rest of the book isn't good too, but Smith's writing shines the brightest, I think, when she is writing about her parents, her first husband and her children. I was also surprised to learn that her father was Stephen Deutch, who was THE photographer of the stars back when I was a kid. I can remember his name in small print on many of the most famous film stars of the fifties. And one of Deutch's best friends was noted author Nelson Algren, still revered in Chicago, where Annick (Deutch) Smith grew up. There are many such connections here. Smith's long-time life partner since her first husband's early death from heart disease is another writer I admire, Bill Kittredge, whose memoir, Hole in the Sky, I read ten-plus years ago and much enjoyed. And I know that Kittredge was a pal of the late author, James Crumley, who isn't mentioned here, but I could almost feel his presence, nonetheless, as Smith tells her stories of gatherings of writers, artists and musicians over the past forty years in the bars and neighborhoods of the Missoula area where the liquor and conversation flowed freely. She tells too of her friendship with Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It, and her part in bringing that story to the screen, working with Robert Redford, albeit too late for Maclean to see it. Her stories of the parties even intrigued me enough to go online and order a CD, Armchair Cabaret, from the website of one of Missoula's favorite bands, the Big Sky Mudflaps. I don't have it yet, so the jury's out on that element.

The last few pieces of the book, in which she talks of trips and expeditions she made, alone or with Kittredge, to Europe and Alaska, did not interest me quite as much as the early part of the book. Although the quality of her writing is undiminished, these "filler" pieces gave the book a kind of uneven feel. In the end, the stories of her family, her large circle of friends, and the land where she has lived for over forty years, are the best. (I was reminded, while reading Homestead, of two other, younger Montana writers, husband and wife Tom and Jennifer Groneberg, also transpanted Chicagoans. Between them they have written three memoirs now: The Secret Life of Cowboys, One Good Horse, and Road Map to Holland. If you want a fascinating and heartfelt look at more recent, modern ranch life in Montana, try these.) I'm glad to have found and read Annick Smith's fine book about Montana and its charms. ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 2, 2010 |
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