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This guide contains resources related to the study of the novella 'Montana 1948' by Larry Watson.

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About the Book

"From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them...." 

So begins David Hayden's story of what happened in Montana in 1948.

The events of that cataclysmic summer permanently alter twelve-year-old David's understanding of his family: his father, a small-town sheriff; his remarkably strong mother; the Hayden's Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, whose revelations are at the heart of the story; David's uncle, a war hero and respected doctor. As their story unravels around David, he learns that truth is not what you believe it to be, that power is abused, and that sometimes you have to choose between family loyalty and justice. 

In a voice as brilliantly clear as the eastern Montana sky, Larry Watson has created a completely new American classic. With nearly perfect pitch, Watson evokes a time, a place, and more: a story whose pages will not stop turning, because its characters will not let them.

Larry Watson, n.d.

Historical Context

The book takes place only three years after the end of World War II, in a small Montana town neighboring a Native American Reservation. After WWII, Americans were elated at the allied victory and admiring of the bravery and heroism of US soldiers, but the war also brought with it several unhappy realisations: the holocaust in Germany and the dropping of the first two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki incited new dialogues about human capacity for evil and prejudice and the threat of virtually apocalyptic new technologies. In many ways the postwar climate in America was one where celebration and pride barely disguised profound new worries about the future. The story accordingly investigates hidden evils in an “all-American” Midwestern town, and puts pressure on the concepts of heroism, justice, and liberty by drawing attention to the bigotry and abuse of power that often exist just under the surface.

Lit Charts, 2017.

About the Author

Larry Watson was born in 1947 in Rugby, North Dakota. He grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and was educated in its public schools. Larry married his high school sweetheart, Susan Gibbons, in 1967. He received his BA and MA from the University of North Dakota, his Ph.D. from the creative writing program at the University of Utah, and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College. Watson has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 2004) and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Larry Watson is the author of the novels AS GOOD AS GONE, LET HIM GO, MONTANA 1948, AMERICAN BOY, IN A DARK TIME, WHITE CROSSES, LAURA, ORCHARD, and SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON; the fiction collection JUSTICE; and the chapbook of poetry LEAVING DAKOTA. Watson’s fiction has been published in ten foreign editions, and has received prizes and awards from Milkweed Press, Friends of American Writers, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association, Mountain and ​Plains Library Association, New York Public Library, Wisconsin Library Association, Critics’ Choice, and The High Plains Book Award. The movie rights to MONTANA 1948 and JUSTICE have been sold to Echo Lake Productions and WHITE CROSSES and ORCHARD have been optioned for film.

Larry Watson, n.d.