Book reviews


Miss S says she was ‘forced’ to study the novella Montana 1948 by Larry Watson this year at school and was surprised when I ‘chose’ to read her copy. Later, Miss S and I discussed the story and I was impressed by her insights into and understanding of the plot, characters, time and place.

Honey-Bunny was also ‘forced’ to read Montana 1948 when she was in High School. I read this book then, too, for similar reasons…

Montana 1948 is told by twelve-year old David Hayden, who is the son of Sheriff Wesley Hayden of Bentrock, nephew of war-hero Doctor Frank Hayden, and grandson of the richest and most powerful rancher in Mercer County. David’s mother Gail and his Aunt Gloria, Frank’s wife, are the most beautiful women in Bentrock.

David is an only child. He and his friends ride horses, swim, fish and hunt, although David admits to feeling his greatest contentment when he was on his own, outside of town, and left just to ‘be’. David’s home is happy and peaceful. The family housekeeper and David’s babysitter is Marie Little Soldier, a Sioux woman, and David loves her as much as he does his parents.

The story begins when Marie becomes ill and against her wishes, David’s parents ask Frank to pay her a visit. They put Marie’s refusal to see him down to Indian superstitions and insist on her being checked by Frank, but when they insist, Marie insists on Gail being present during the examination. Later, Gail tells Frank that Marie told her that Frank is known for sexually abusing the women he treats on the reservations.

David describes his father as having low regard for Indians and that his opinion was the usual for a white man in Montana at that time. Sheriff Hayden treated Indians with “generosity, kindness, and respect (as he could treat every human being)” but he also believed most Indians were “ignorant, lazy, superstitious, and irresponsible.” As an Australian, I can see why this book was chosen for our children to study…

Regardless of Sheriff Hayden’s prejudices, he and David’s mother begin an investigation and soon find that Marie’s claims are true. Soon after, Marie is found dead and the Sheriff finds himself in the difficult position of having to arrest his brother for Marie’s murder, a decision which is not supported by his father or mother. Frank is locked in the family basement while an arraignment in another town is being arranged.

This story has similarities with To Kill a Mockingbird, racism, family, moral dilemmas, love, strength of character and growth in a coming of age story.

I remember being ‘forced’ to study Animal Farm by George Orwell and Lord of the Flies by William Golding in school. I disliked both at the time, but all these years later I still think about the questions raised by both stories, which is how I judge a ‘good’ book. I’m sure Miss S and her classmates will remember Montana 1948 for the same reasons when they are older.

A little story from when He Who Eats All of Our Leftovers and I were first going out. He asked me to the movies to see Of Mice and Men because he’d read and enjoyed the book by John Steinbeck, which convinced me that HWEAoOL was a keeper. Later, when I was well and truly hooked, HWEAoOL told me Of Mice and Men was the only book he’d ever read and that was only because he had been ‘forced’ to in school. Swallowing my disappointment, I realised that if you were only going to read one book in your lifetime, it might as well be a good one.


Comments on: "Montana 1948 by Larry Watson" (6)

  1. I’ve never heard of this book but it sounds like a must read. Hahaha – have you managed to turn HWEAoYL into a reader yet?

  2. Haha! No, but luckily opposites attract! Once in a while HWEAOOL pretends to listen while I tell him about a book I’m enjoying, or I’ll sit with him and watch a bit of a hot rod show on television!

  3. Haha, love your HWEAOOL story. A bit like mine. One of the big things to attract me was that he said he liked Jane Austen and had read most of them. I didn’t realise then that, while that’s true, reading isn’t high on his agenda. However, 40 years later we are still together. As you say, opposites attract – somehow!

    My son did Of mice and men at high school – around 2000. Like you I did novellas like Animal Farm, but I loved it. I remember when my online reading group did Montana 1948. I missed reading it then for some reason or other, though would have been happy to read it because I like novellas and I like American literature. However, I had no idea that it was being read in schools. You’ve revived my interest in this book – thought whether it will ever make it onto the TBR pile I have no idea.

  4. I would have married your husband instead of mine if I had heard him say he’d read and enjoyed Jane Austen before you did! No, maybe not, HWEAoOL’s is a top bloke and I think I’m very lucky with him (he doesn’t read my blog, in case you’re wondering).
    Another reason in its favour, Montana 1948 is a quick read!

  5. Quick sounds good.

    BTW Mr Gums rarely reads my blog either. But overall he’s a top bloke too😉😀

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