Larry Watson's compact, cleanly written, and compelling novels- Montana 1948 and Justice are rare gifts. Almost everyone I know who has read Montana 1948
first heard of it from a friend or relative, who, intensely moved, urged its reading, as I do here. (Montana 1948 is now in paperback; Justice, published this year, is still only in cloth.)
Both books concern the Hayden family: the grandfather, Julian Hayden, crude, racist, and powerful, who has ruled the town of Bentrock in northern Montana; his two sons, Frank, the war-hero physician (whom he overtly prefers), and Wesley, the slightly lame lawyer-sheriff; and their wives, Enid, Gloria, and Gail. Gail, Wesley's wife, plays an unforgettable and strong role in Montana 1948, though the men are central. Montana 1948
is told by Wesley and Gail's 12-year-old son, David, who observes and comments on the stunning events that quietly unfold. His innocence and effort to understand the terrible ensuing crisis leads the reader to discover the conflicting claims of casual racism, sexual abuse, public responsibility, and family ties.
is a parable, a refashioning of the story of whites in the Native American West. But the story is far better than a mere parable; it is told with an eye to specific and telling detail, each character emerging with force and particularity. It is not until near the end that the reader realizes she has seen a familiar history from an unaccustomed angle.