Friday, July 2, 2010

Review: Montana 1948

Author: Larry Watson
Format: audio book -4 discs; 4 hours; 186 pages equivalent
Characters:David Hayden, his father, uncle, his mother, Marie Little Soldier
Subject: racism in small town; murder, sexual assault
Setting: eastern Montana flatlands, 1948
Genre: Fiction
Source: Public library
Challenge: Support your Local Library; Audiobooks

This is a must read book.  Phil Jackson, coach of the championship LA Lakers who chooses books for all his players every year (so they'll have something to read on the team bus/plane) chose this one for Kobe Bryant.  It is a stunning, short, exquisite portrait of a young man's (David Hayden) coming of age in small town America just after WWII.  It tells the story of his family's relationship with Marie Little Soldier, his mother's housemaid (and his unofficial nanny), and how her illness and subsequent death had such an impact on his parents, grandparents, and particularly his uncle the town doctor.

The concise, clear prose tells the story from David's point of view as he struggles to make sense of how the adults in his life are acting, reconciling their actions with their words (or their silences), trying to balance their overt prejudice against his own experience of friendship and love. His father, a lawyer by education, but town sheriff by employment must face unpleasant truths and is asked to sacrifice his moral sense to please his family.  The shattering events, the moral dilemmas, and the astonishing ending make this a truly poignant, anguished story of love, hate, betrayal and redemption.  It's hard to say much more without spoiling future readers' enjoyment of this gem.

I listened to this on audio because I love the format but also because the audio was available and there was a wait of several weeks for the print version. Besides, Beau Bridges did the narration, and I figured I couldn't go wrong with that.  It was excellent.  This is one that I will be buying however because it is one I will want to read again and again.  It belongs on all high school reading lists right up there with "To Kill a Mockingbird."  It's that good.


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