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Montana 1948 (1993)

by Larry Watson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,4756810,397 (3.88)377
"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 heroand 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.… (more)
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» See also 377 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
There is little better than a well-done coming-of-age story, and Montana 1948 is absolutely that. David Hayden is twelve years old and at the center of life-altering events that shake his world and his understanding of what family means, what justice is, and the difference between what is right and what is expected.

David’s father is the town sheriff, a job he inherited (wanted or not) from his own father, a powerful man in the town of Bentrock. Bentrock is located near an Indian reservation, and Indians make up a portion of the town population. One of those Indians is Marie Little Soldier, the Hayden’s housekeeper, and someone whom David loves as if a member of his family. Marie is at the center of the tragedy that overtakes the Haydens and marks the end of David’s childhood.

As the story unfolds, David learns about the difference between justice for the white population and justice for the Indians. He experiences the prejudice against these people in a different way than he has before, and what happens directly involves both David and his family, particularly his father, who must choose between what is right and what is expedient.

I read this book in one sitting, because I had no desire to lay it aside, even to fix lunch for my poor husband, who waited patiently to be fed. Larry Watson writes in a very straightforward manner, but in a way that conjures up place and time and feels real and urgent.

That night I thought I felt death in our house. Grandmother Hayden, a superstitious person, once told me about how, when she was a girl, her brother died and for days after, death lingered in the house. Her brother was trampled by a team of horses, and his blood-and-dirt streaked body was laid on the kitchen table. From then until he was buried my grandmother said she could tell there was another presence in the house. It was nothing she could see, she said, but every time you entered a room it felt as though someone brushed by you as you went in. Every door seemed to require a bit more effort to open and close. There always seemed to be a sound--a whisper--on the edge of your hearing, something you couldn’t quite make out.

There is a haunting feeling to this novel. Perhaps it is the ghosts of people, or perhaps just the ghost of the past, David’s past. A story that insists on being told.

My thanks for my friend, Howard, for pointing me to another obscure masterpiece.



( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
A beautiful little gem of a book; a coming-of-age story set in a tiny Montana town in the years after WWII, when a 12-year-old boy comes to understand that the world is not made up of black and white, that not all adults are infallible, and that sometimes the choice between what is loved and what is right are two very different things. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Jul 7, 2022 |
You might not expect much from a short novel (just 169 pages) with a title like “Montana 1948” (1993). I didn't, but having read two later novels by Larry Watson, I should have known better. The title may sound like a book of regional history. The book itself may look like an ambitious tourism pamphlet. But this is Larry Watson, and the man can write.

This coming-of-age story set in northeastern Montana in the summer of 1948 is narrated by a boy who is the son of the county sheriff, Wesley Hayden, who is himself the son of a sheriff. David Hayden's grandfather is a blustery, powerful man used to getting his own way, both in his family and in Mercer Country. He has never made it a secret that his favorite son is not Wesley, who gave up a career practicing law to enforce the law as his own father did. The favored son is Frank, a handsome and charming war hero who is now a prominent doctor in the community.

This last summer in Bentrock, Montana, begins to unravel when Marie Little Soldier, the Indian woman who lives with the Haydens and watches over David, becomes ill. When calling a doctor is suggested, she protests, but Frank is called in anyway. Mariel screams in fear when he arrives.

Eventually David's mother learns from Marie that Frank has a reputation of sexually molesting Indian women. She persuades her husband to investigate, which he does, first with reluctance and then with determination to see it through, whatever the consequences.

And those consequences turn out to be profound for everyone involved.

This may be a little novel with an odd title, but it packs quite a punch. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Dec 28, 2021 |
Montana 1948 delivers a powerful story with memorable characters that could have been enhanced if the thoughts and perspective of
Marie Little Soldier had also been a focus.

It would also have been welcome to understand:

1. why the Sheriff did not take the Doctor immediately to jail after his hideous confession
and
2, why David would take a chance on hurting his father all over again by allowing his (dim? oblivious? uncaring? blunt?) wife to proceed
with her stupid direction of questioning. ( )
  m.belljackson | Apr 10, 2021 |
The core of the story - the ugly, dark, disgusting core of the story - is the question of whether or not Uncle Frank is molesting Native-American girls in his role as a doctor. And the narrator, his nephew, is the one who tells us this tale, and reaches the end of his childhood along the way.

It is an extremely well written story, with great sadness, loss, and pain. It's a short book, with a powerful punch to the gut. Especially that last paragraph. Wow.

This is the second tale I've read by Larry Watson, and I think I've become a fan. But I may have to recharge a bit before I tackle another one. Woo whee. ( )
1 vote Stahl-Ricco | Apr 6, 2021 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Watson, Larryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bridges, BeauReadermain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmond, Joop vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huddle, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Péguillan, BertrandTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenman, JaneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 . . . .
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. . . I realized that these strange, unthought-of connections -- sex and death, lust and violence, desire and degradation -- are there, there, deep in even a good heart’s chambers. (p. 82)
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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 understanding of his family: his father, a small-town sheriff; his remarkably strong mother; David's uncle Frank, a war heroand 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.

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