By Joyce Brusin
The Willow Field
By William Kittredge
New York: Alfred A. Knopf: A Borzoi Book, 2006, 339 pp., $24.95
This first novel by retired UM Regents Professor William Kittredge was completed after decades of publishing acclaimed short stories, essays, and memoir. Set in the 1930s through the 1990s, it celebrates the constancy of landscape in the American West while mulling over the changes wrought by settlement and greed. It ponders the origins of human love and how, in the lives of a Bitterroot Valley family, those origins sustain and sometimes disappoint.
Rossie Benasco grows up along the banks of the Truckee River outside Reno, Nevada, observing his Portuguese father, Nito, deal cards, and his mother, Katrina, run a boardinghouse for women awaiting final divorce decrees. At the age of fifteen he drifts off from high school to the local stockyards, where he perches high atop the fences until someone offers him a chance to sit horseback. There, his love of that “amiable creature,” the horse, is set for life. Hoping to lure his son back to school, Nito arranges for Rossie to spend some months as a wrangler on the Neversweat, one of Nevada’s empire ranches. It is from there that Rossie will find his way, first to Calgary and then to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, always in the company of amiable creatures and sometimes in the company of Eliza Stevenson, the woman he comes to call his “lifetime treasure.”
Over the years, the landscape of The Willow Field will stretch from the deserts of Nevada to the “glaciated mountains” of Canada, east to Chicago, and, finally, across the Atlantic to Paris. In these places Rossie will encounter Blood Indians, hunting guides, savvy investors, university professors, dairy farmers, his own and other men’s children, old friends, and eventually, political rivals. In his teens, after weeks spent herding cattle from Nevada to the Canadian Rockies, he emerges from the forest to encounter a scene that encompasses the contradiction and beauty that will make up his life.
“The next day he reached a clearing, where midmorning sunlight cut through yellow pines to lay its patterns on the mown grass just ahead. Rossie heard a man curse and a woman call out, hooting laughter. “Nice one.” He had, he discovered, emerged onto a meadowland golf course, fairways with old-growth evergreens between them and artificial mounds cut into orange-yellow sand traps. Flags blew in a breeze across the greens and limber-legged elk grazed while golfers in neckties played through.
“…Startled for an instant to find this unexpected spectacle in the Rockies, he kept on crossing the fairways. Men and women in their foursomes waved, and the elk snorted at his horses, but never stampeded or charged.”
by James Grady ’72
New York: Tom Doherty Associates: A Forge Book, 2006, 332 pp., $24.95
Shelby native James Grady penned the 1974 international bestseller Six Days of the Condor in a converted garage in Missoula when he was just twenty-four years old. This latest novel of the ten that have followed begins at what should have been the end of the road for its deeply idealistic but shattered characters.
Terrorism, brutality, and unimaginable grief have broken five of the best spies America ever had. They’ve ended up together in a secret CIA psychiatric hospital hidden in the woods of Maine. Their bond will be sealed when, at a time they least expect it, they must solve a puzzling murder—one that defies explanation and seems intended to mark them all as suspects.
Four men and a woman, they pool what little they have—their resourcefulness, training, and skill in martial arts—to clear their names and root out whatever evil has infiltrated their locked-away world. It is a quest that will take them south to the Maryland shore and beyond to the parklands of Washington DC. Along the way, each of them will confront the wounds that first brought them to Maine.
Victor, the poetry-loving spy who narrates their story, had cover as a martial arts expert touring Asia when, long before 9/11, he found a way to access the highest levels of Al-Qaeda in Malaysia.
Like his four fellow patients—who’d operated deep in the jungles of Vietnam, in Balkan cities, or among the arms traders of Africa—Victor made it home with the “intel,” but at a cost he could not bear. Now together, these “mad dogs” of the agency will work to right what wrongs they still can.
The Taos Truth Game
by Earl Ganz
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006, 326 pp., $24.95
Earl Ganz was an English professor at UM from 1966 to 1996.
“Although many characters, places, and events of this novel are factual, this is a story of what may have happened or could have happened…,” writes Earl Ganz in the introduction to this story of love and friendship in the life of novelist and Butte native Myron Brinig. Wandering cross-country with friends in the 1930s—already famous for his books Singermann and Wide Open Town—Brinig lands in Taos, New Mexico, and finds himself smitten with a young painter, Cady Wells. A transplanted son of East Coast privilege, Cady’s roots could not be more different than Brinig’s own Montana Jewish merchant ones.
The two men become entangled in the famous Taos literary and artistic salons of the day, especially the one presided over by writer Mabel Dodge Luhan, who had lured the British novelist D.H. Lawrence to Taos in the 1920s. Nearly all who crossed Luhan’s threshold were subjected to some version of “The Truth Game,” as guests were one evening when she instructed them to: “Just pick a person in the room, tell what you think of them and do it as wittily and as truthfully as you can.” Originally a parlor game, the truth game becomes a metaphor for the often conflicted relationships among Taos’ talented, sometimes frustrated expatriates.
In one vividly re-created scene, locals gather around a bonfire and mingle with an orchestra called in for a celebration: “As the fire grew in intensity it seemed to steal the last of the day’s light. Part of the effect was the thunderheads coming in from the west. But they didn’t deter the mariachis, who called themselves the San Cristobal Orchestra. They struck up "La Paloma," and people locked arms and began to move sideways in an Indian circle dance of friendship. But after a while some of the dancers were drawing closer to the fire until they were so hot they had to back away, which made the circle undulate like a snake….”
Drawn from Luhan's and Brinig’s memoirs and letters, this novel brings to life a nearly forgotten Montana writer and the people who most intrigued him.
Copper Chorus: Mining, Politics, and the Montana Press, 1889-1959
by Dennis L. Swibold
Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 2006, 408 pp., $39.95 hardcover, $24.95 paperback
Swibold is a professor of journalism at UM.
Montana was a battleground state long before today’s electoral map. Starting in the nineteenth century, its mineral wealth attracted legions of speculators. Of those who prospered, some would use every resource available to paint the economic, political, and social map of Montana according to their own best interests and—they would argue—the best interests of the state. Early entrepreuners found ways to harness the power of the press to influence public opinion and determine the outcome in a host of issues important to Montana. Publishers of these industry-owned papers could afford to hire some of the best editors, writers, and cartoonists in America. By the twentieth century, "copper press" dailies and weeklies were to be found in each of Montana’s major cities and were often owned outright by the Amalgamated or Anaconda Copper companies. In the eighty years before the Anaconda Company began to lose interest in its Montana holdings, the Anaconda Standard and numerous other major papers “performed all the functions of a modern corporate public relations department: promoting the company’s strengths, touting its leaders, and stressing its importance to the communal well-being while downplaying bad news and the company’s persistent critics,” writes Swibold.
But by the mid-1950s, Anaconda’s leadership had concluded that “newspapering” was bad business. “As symbols of corporate power, the animosity [the papers] generated increasingly undermined their credibility on subjects large and small, on issues real and imagined,” writes Swibold. In 1959, when Anaconda found a buyer for its fleet of papers in the Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, Time magazine celebrated the sale and remarked that prior to it: “Suspicious Montana readers automatically looked for the ‘copper collar’ riveted around every story.”
From its early vitriolic “ink slinging,” to later attempts to simply slant coverage, Montana’s copper press may have gotten more than it bargained for. Its story, told through anecdotes and fascinating detail, mirrors the modern history of Montana.
All This Could Be Yours
by Laurie Blauner, M.F.A. ’80
Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove Press, 2006, 109 pp., $17
Former UM English Professor Madeline DeFrees cites this work, Blauner’s fifth published book of poetry, as her best.
Drawing to an Inside Straight: The Legacy of an Absent Father
by Jodi Varon, M.F.A. ’82
Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2006, 171 pp., $19.95
This is an intriguing story of a Jewish family—the father a Ladino-speaking Sephardi and the mother a Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi, both New Yorkers—making a life in Denver in the 1960s.
The Cartographer’s Melancholy
by David Axelrod, M.F.A. ’82
Spokane, WA: Eastern Wash. Press, 2005, 67 pp. $14.95
Montana Poet Laureate Sandra Alcosser notes that Axelrod “follows the refugee road, with its transcendence, resignation, and dark dramatic histories, and within each poem he makes the important discoveries, the ones that counterpoise suffering against the world’s beauty."
Mountain Spirit: The Sheep Eater Indians of Yellowstone
by Lawrence L. Loendorf ’64 & Nancy Medaris Stone
Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2006, 211 pp., $50 hardcover; $19.95 paperback
The authors explore the world of Shoshone Indians known as the Sheep Eaters, who maintained an abundant way of life closely related to their source of protein.
by Allan M. Holender ’65
Vancouver, BC: Write Action Pub., 2006, 172 pp., $26.95
The author, an entrepreneur, radio personality, and team building trainer, imagines a world built on Zen right thinking and provides an engaging argument for infusing capitalism with a higher purpose.
Waiting for Otto
by Ron Rude, M.E. ’89
Baltimore, MD: Publish America, 2006, 203 pp., $19.95
This is a vivid, at times heartbreaking, account of homesteading life on the prairies of North Dakota, a true story of Selma Reetzlaff Wollerman, who survived the loss of two husbands, the vagaries of farming and weather, cruel neighbors, and the Second World War, dying at 101, still sound of mind and soul.
this article in Montanan