Wednesday, January 04, 2006


The Best of Montana’s Short Fiction, edited by Wm. Kittredge and Allen Morris Jones. (Lyons Press, 2004) (Lyons Press, rather strangely, is located back east but prints a LOT of Montana subjects, a legacy from Falcon Press maybe.)

“Oh, no,” you cry. "Not another one!" But it’s true and most of the usual suspects are here, since the usual editor is here -- although with the assistance of Jones rather than Smith. Bass, Beer, Blew, Ford and Fromm. But there are some voices I hadn’t noticed before.

Claire Davis in “Grounded” has created a classic. A teenaged boy who is “grounded,” runs away from home. His single mom sees what he’s up to and goes along with him, though a few feet behind. An old man gives the boy some good advice, though he’s a bit puzzled about how his mother is coming along, too. They storm on through the day until they are finally to the edge of a night sleeping on the ground. Then the balance changes and the MOM runs away! Her son follows. You know the danger has passed. (I admired Davis' novel "Winter Range" which was rather trampled by Judy Blunt's "Breaking Clean." The two books came out about the same time and describe similar time and place, but are nothing alike otherwise. Blunt wrote memoir, Davis was writing a mystery. Both are tough, but that was function of the setting.)

If you are in need of a story to “compare and contrast” with “Brokeback Mountain” (you’ll be able to tell whether your student actually read the Annie Proulx short story -- a pretty tough tale -- or only saw the movie), you could not do better than Kim Zupan’s “The Mourning of Ignacio Rosa.” I would never presume to say which one is better, but they are different and yet the same.

Both editors included short stories of their own and they are not necessarily the best stories. Jones, in particular, has written something that is a series of violent episodes -- more pulp genre that what one usually sees in such anthologies, which have a heavy tilt to the academic and workshop styles.

You won’t find Bowen, Wheeler, Stan West, or the other masters of plot development. These stories are in the tradition of the shift of consciousness, the gradual realization, etc. Many girl friends with Crow features, many scenes of social injustice, many cries of despair -- almost all from white, basically middle-class, sort of thirtyish males. All unaware of global politics, the state of the grass (except for the smoking kind), or what commodities are doing on the stock market. (Lots of talk about cows.) No stories about skiing, snowmobiles, trophy mansions, or gourmet eating -- so much for the high end of the social scale in Montana. Two boxing stories, one with a female boxer. I blame them on Clint Eastwood.

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