Montana 1948: A Novel
by Larry Watson Milkweed Editions, 1993
In the summer of 1948, in a small Montana town, something happened that David Hayden, twelve years old at the time, has never been able to forget: a shocking sequence of events that shattered his quiet world and marked a sudden, painful coming of age. Montana 1948, a slim but powerful work, is the remembering of that time by the narrator as a grown man, forty years later. In his story of the place he loved but refuses to revisit, questions are raised concerning racial prejudice, sexual exploitation, small town hypocrisy, privilege versus conscience, and the courage to do the right thing regardless of consequences.
...all of northeastern Montana is hard country -- the land is dry and sparse and the wind never stops blowing.
Bentrock, the hardscrabble prairie town of 2000 souls that is David's home, still has elements of the frontier. Wes Hayden, David's honest, well-meaning father is the county sheriff, a job he inherited from his father, a domineering patriarch. His devout, strong-minded wife works for the Registrar of Deeds at the courthouse. Marie Little Soldier, a Sioux Indian, is the family's housekeeper and is idolized by David, an only child. When she falls ill and desperately resists examination by Dr. Frank Hayden, David's charismatic, war hero uncle, the family is forced to face an ugly truth. In spare, thoughtful prose this drama of two brothers, an innocent victim, a courageous wife and the young boy who learns by listening and watching the adults builds to a harrowing climax.
Winner of the 1993 Milkweed National Fiction Prize as well as a Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award, Montana 1948 was named among the "Best Books of 1993" by Library Journal and the American Library Association's Booklist. It has enjoyed success in bookstores around the country and garnered widespread media attention, with Pocket Books/Washington Square Press purchasing paperback rights, and film rights optioned by Paramount. Beautiful language, keen sense of place, a mesmerizing story and a passion for justice are key ingredients in this deeply felt, memorable tale.
Born in 1947 in Rugby, North Dakota and raised in Bismarck, Larry Watson received B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of North Dakota and a Ph.D in creative writing from the University of Utah. Since 1978 he has been professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he teaches creative writing and literature. He also codirects the Central Wisconsin Writing Project, a national program dedicated to improving instruction in writing in American schools.
In addition to the prize-winning Montana 1948, Watson has written an earlier novel, In a Dark Time (Scribner 's, 1980), and a chapbook of poetry, Leaving Dakota (Song Press, 1983). His poems and stories have appeared in a wide variety of literary reviews. In 1983 he received a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board for fiction and in 1987, a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. An avid sports participant and fan, Larry's other interests include Midwestern literature and the history of the Dakota and Montana regions. Like Wesley Hayden in Montana 1948, his own father served as a small town sheriff (in North Dakota), a position he inherited from his father, one of the most powerful men in Pierce County. Watson maintains, however, that parallels between novel and real life end there.
Larry and Susan, his wife of twenty-five years, live in Stevens Point. They have two daughters, Elly, who has two children of her own, and Amy, a senior in high school. Another novel is in the hands of his publisher.