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White Crosses (1997)

by Larry Watson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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259580,376 (3.53)60
Larry Watson's previous fiction evoking contemporary Western small-town life has won him awards, a dedicated readership, and unqualified critical praise. Now he has written a novel that envelops the rich emotional terrain of his beloved Montana in a mystery that is both unexpected and unforgettable. After a nighttime accident at the bottom of Sprull Hill in Bentrock, Sheriff Jack Nevelsen is compelled to try and protect a part of his hometown that even a hero would have trouble saving -- its innocence. For most everyone in the community would agree that June Moss, the quiet girl who had just graduated from high school, and Leo Bauer, the principal of Bentrock Elementary and a married man like Jack, had no business heading out of town together. As Jack sets out to unravel the mystery of their deaths, he begins to create a story to shield his town, a lie that will reverberate throughout an entire community, and into the shadows of his own heart.… (more)
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» See also 60 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
No good deed goes unpunished. Lies are clearer than glass. The truth will out.

Every one of those nostrums is the god's-honest truth, and forgetting them...worse still, ignoring them...worst of all, setting out to disprove them...will cause more harm than the unpalatable truth ever could. Pain of an order that mere embarrassment, petty humiliation will render positively desirable attends every effort at concealment of the ugly facts of life.

People don't fall out of love; they fall in it and, like Archimedes in his bath, discover that a large weight dropped into a limited volume of sloshable stuff results in losses over the sides of the delimiting container. The only limit to the sloshing damage is the relative size of the container to the added thing.

Poor little June, poor old Leo: starting out and ending up at the same moment. It is heart-hurtingly obvious to me, old and battered and cynical, that desperation rode their backs. Leo, last-love lorn, couldn't accept that he was done. June, blooming in the delicious and addictive admiration of The Older Man, wouldn't even recognize the hopelessness of escape from yourself.

When I read this in 1997, I was shattered. The carnage and the mayhem that these two blinded-by-desperation souls wreaked in their passage out of town left me muttering and fulminating and all too aware of my own sins of omission and commission. "How can you not see!" when what I meant was "why did I not see?" and the list of wrongs, slights, inconsideratenesses yawned before my appalled feet. The best stories show you yourself; the best writers make you take it with good grace.

This is the best story told by the best writer. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Jul 1, 2019 |
Slow moving and introspective, this tells the story of Jack Nevelsen, the sheriff in Bentrock, Montana, who tries to hold the town together after the elementary school principal dies in car accident with a teenage girl. ( )
  Hope_H | Jan 15, 2016 |
Set in Montana in the 1950's, this is the story of a well-meaning but misguided man who wished to save the reputation of a prominent citizen and preserve the innocence of his town. On the night of the Bentrock High School graduation, sheriff Jack Nevelson is called to the scene of a fatal accident where two people have been killed. The driver of the car was Leo Bauer, the principal of the Bentrock elementary school. His passenger was June Moss, a teenager who had just graduated that very evening. Jack cannot imagine a scenario that would put these two people together but once fully packed suitcases are found in the wreckage it is obvious that Leo and June were leaving Bentrock together. One of the suitcases bore the id tag of Leo's son, Rick, another of the high school graduates. Jack compulsively decides that he needs to invent a story that it was June and Rick who were a couple and that Leo was merely driving the girl to a rendezvous with his son so that the two teens could run off together. The sheriff drives to the large graduation party being held by a local family and there he gives Rick the news of his father's death. He convinces Rick that the fabrication he has concoctoed can only work if Rick will agree and certainly Rick would not want his mother to be devastated not only by her husband's death but his infidelity as well. Rick agrees not realizing that he himself will become the object of the town's hatred and ridicule when they believe he is the cause of the two people being in the doomed car. Sheriff Nevelson now must concern himself with convincing everyone that Mr. Bauer and June Moss were innocents merely fulfilling a Romeo and Juliet type dream for Rick. As the lie begins to unravel, Jack becomes more and more desperate to continue the cover-up.

This is a difficult book for me to rate. The kernel of the story was intriguing but a whole lot of absolutely nothing happened in 371 pages. Watson writes very well and he paints some wonderful pictures of Montana, small town life, farms and ranches, and the people of Bentrock. However, every step forward in the story seemed to cause 15 steps sideways or backwards as Watson went in myriad directions filling in minute details that added nothing to the tale. Fortunately, the ending was worth the trek.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
Complex interplays, should we attempt to “alter” for another’s sake ?
and what do we really know about what’s for their sake ?
Read in 2006. ( )
  CasaBooks | Apr 28, 2013 |
Sheriff Jack Nevelsen dreads being called during graduation night. Too great are the odds that some newly former high-school kid drank too much and lost control over his car, killing himself and/or others in the process. But the call does come and a car has gone off the road. Only one thing is different this time: While the car does contain the body of June Moss, a quiet girl who graduated that day, it also contains the body of school principal Leo Bauer, a pillar of the community and, of course, married. As well as suitcases.

Jack embarks on a manic quest to control the story, to manipulate what people think about it. No way can he let the people of his small town reach the conclusion that they live in a place where middle-aged men run off with girls young enough to be their daughters, because... Well, because if _that_ is possible, then other things might be possible, too -- and where will it all end? People might just do whatever they feel like doing, and even Jack might have to re-evaluate his decision to stay with a woman who does not want to hear about his work and has not let him see her naked in ten years...

Larry Watson does an excellent job of portraying the claustrophobic feeling of living in a small-town in the late 1950s; a town where everybody knows your business, eyebrows are easily raised and a man sitting on a bench in the park too often is reason enough to call the police. But there is also the hint of a less restricted future, coming in through the static in Jack's car radio on those stations his daughter loves... Mayberry this is not.
  littlegreycloud | May 15, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Larry Watsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bridges, BeauNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmond, Joop vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When Sheriff Jack Nevelsen got the call from the dispatcher about the accident out on Highway 284 - single car, two fatalities - his first thought was, kids.
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Larry Watson's previous fiction evoking contemporary Western small-town life has won him awards, a dedicated readership, and unqualified critical praise. Now he has written a novel that envelops the rich emotional terrain of his beloved Montana in a mystery that is both unexpected and unforgettable. After a nighttime accident at the bottom of Sprull Hill in Bentrock, Sheriff Jack Nevelsen is compelled to try and protect a part of his hometown that even a hero would have trouble saving -- its innocence. For most everyone in the community would agree that June Moss, the quiet girl who had just graduated from high school, and Leo Bauer, the principal of Bentrock Elementary and a married man like Jack, had no business heading out of town together. As Jack sets out to unravel the mystery of their deaths, he begins to create a story to shield his town, a lie that will reverberate throughout an entire community, and into the shadows of his own heart.

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