Book Review: Montana 1948 by Larry Watson ★★★


“That’s not the way it works. You know that. Sins—crimes—are not supposed to go unpunished.”

I’m really glad I finally read this book! You know when a cover just sticks out to you and you can’t seem to help but get drawn to a book, because of it? That was Montana 1948 for me. I saw it so many times at thrift stores and finally picked it up, because I just love that cover! I am very happy I got to it quickly after that and I enjoyed the story. I ended up giving it 3 stars.

This is a very interesting story about a young boy living in Montana in 1948 (as one could easily gather from the book’s title). The boy’s father is the local sheriff and his family has been in charge around the town for a couple generations, so they are highly regarded and relatively powerful among their neighbors. When the boy’s uncle, a renowned war hero and local physician, is accused of sexually abusing his patients, particularly the Native American girls, the family must decide how to handle those accusations.

Essentially, this is a coming of age story for our main protagonist David interwoven with a right vs. wrong thriller. David overhears his parents discussing his uncle’s alleged crimes, when their young housekeeper Marie falls ill. Marie is an Indian woman and David has a boyhood crush on her. His outlook on the world, his sexuality, his view of his family, his morality, and his innocence are all wrapped up in Marie and her fate. Her illness is the catalyst for a turning point in David’s life that will shape him as a person and change his life forever.

There are some intense themes being explored here, such as power dynamics between white people and Native American people, men and women, doctors and their patients, husbands and wives, parents and children. David struggles with wanting to know things and being there for his family, and doing what is right, but also having to face the reality of something he is not quite ready for. His perspective of his family shifts considerably and the concept of family vs. the law is delved into. What do you do when someone you love and admire is committing a crime? What do you do when your own father is telling you to turn a blind eye? Do you use your power for good or do you cover up for your family? Is it better to expose a criminal or protect your family’s image? All of these concepts are considered here and, seen through the eyes of the twelve year old protagonist, they take on a chilling and stark tone. It is interesting to see how a child views such a situation compared to the adults around him.

The story was a very quick read. The book itself was short and the writing was fast-paced and compelling. It was written very well, if in a no-frills kind of manner. It was sparse in way that fit the tone of the novel and the setting of Montana. I do think the book could have benefited from being longer, however. While I very much enjoyed it and I think the story was quick and self-contained, it felt a little surface-level to me. I believe it was done intentionally, but I wish the author had taken more time to flesh out the situation, the characters, the family dynamics, and the backdrop of the Montana landscape. I believe the author was successful in what he wrote, it reads almost like a short story on morality and hard choices, but for me, it would have been even more impactful if I had more to go off of. More of a foundation from the start of the novel and more time to really dwell on what was happening here.

Overall, this was a great little book and a very interesting look at a time period in American history that is often romanticized. The fact that the author chose to expose a darker reality and viewpoint here is extremely important. Definitely worth the read!

I think the only truly good character was Nutty!

Thanks for reading!

Title: Montana 1948
Author: Larry Watson
Genre: Fiction| Literature | Coming of Age | Historical Fiction
Publication Date: April 1st, 1995
Page Count: 182 pages
Buy It: Wordery Book Depository

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