About Books: Summer 2019
A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do
By Pete Fromm
Taz and Marnie: Such a pair! He’s good with wood, bad with checkbooks. She’s feisty, smart and pregnant. Together they’re building a life for themselves and baby Midge (“just this tiny thing,” Marnie explains of her unusual naming, “that sort of holds the whole deal together”).
Except that Marnie dies while giving birth to her daughter, and the whole deal falls apart. Taz is left with a half-remodeled house, a brand-new baby who doesn’t sleep much, and occasional visits from his mother-in-law, sunk in her own grief.
Fortunately for all survivors, his best friend Rudy, “the international man of mystery,” swoops in to change diapers and make sure Taz keeps it together enough to raise Midge. When Taz is forced to return to work as a cabinet maker and carpenter, Rudy finds Elmo, a red-head with her own brand of feisty, to tend Midge.
A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do navigates the rocky terrain of love, tragedy and courage with humor and compassion. As in Pete Fromm’s last novel, If Not For This, the only villain here is the uncertainty of life itself. His dialogue rings rich and true, his characters are people you know (or want to know), and the landscape – Missoula and the Blackfoot River – have the detail and luster that can only emerge from a skillful writer who knows and loves a place.
– Kristi Niemeyer
The Missoula author’s second novel, Home Everywhere, is a suitcase full of souvenirs scavenged from lives liberated, briefly, from the cares of the world.
A random collection of tourists embarks on a 10-day budget trip to parts unknown. The parts are destined to stay that way, while the tourists fixate on the actions and trappings of being alive. In the tradition of pilgrims across the ages, they seek spiritual salvation, physical healing, alluring accessories, and good bargains. Soon their sacred places emerge as elusive versions of home.
“... A gleaming cloud chamber of a book ... satisfying on many levels and telling in every tongue,” writes Michael Martone, author of The Blue Guide to Indiana.
“Megan views contemporary life as we are living it and sheds light on the expectations of being ‘here’ and not ‘there’ and how dreams and desires sought in strange places are more confined to home than we realize. She is writing about us and we need to heed her words. More wisdom from an enlightened author,” writes Grady Harp in the San Francisco Review of Books.
McNamer’s first novel, Children and Lunatics, won the Big Moose Prize from Black Lawrence Press.
The Behavior of Love
By Virginia Reeves
Virginia Reeves turns her prodigious writing talent to a challenging time and place: the 1970s and the Boulder River School and Hospital, a state institution that houses 750 people with disabilities.
Psychiatrist Ed Malinowski was recently hired as superintendent – a responsibility he relishes. He and his wife, Laura, moved to Helena from Michigan, where he’d been involved in transferring people out of institutions into group homes and assisted living facilities. He hopes to oversee the same transformation here, despite a stifling bureaucracy and reluctant legislators.
But aspirations and reality are worlds apart. And so, increasingly, are he and his wife. As the author nimbly switches narratives between the couple, we hear tensions escalating. He’s too devoted to his job, thinks Laura, and to one patient in particular, the lovely and gifted Penelope, whose only crime is epilepsy.
Dr. Ed, the behavioral psychiatrist, seems oddly unable to manage his own impulses – he drinks too much, cares too deeply for Penelope, and is wed to his job.
The author writes so knowingly about marriage – the intimacy and estrangement that can happen almost simultaneously, how commitment can linger long after a divorce. And she jarringly evokes a time, a half century ago, when booze and cigarettes were a staple of Montana culture (even for pregnant women) and when developmentally disabled people were stored out of sight, out of mind in a decrepit building full of “soot and sadness.”
The author’s debut, Work Like Any Other, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Esquire.com describes her latest as “even-handed and sensitive” while Publishers Weekly calls it a “crisp, powerful novel.”
– Kristi Niemeyer
The Blizzard of ’32
By Richard Sterry
Adelia Anderson struggles to raise her two youngest children on the meager stipend she earns as a schoolteacher on Montana’s Hi-Line. Come Christmas, son Will reluctantly joins the pastor on a Christmas-tree expedition to the Sweetgrass Hills. Meanwhile her youngest, Viola, imagines herself the star of the upcoming Christmas party with her mastery of the Charleston.
A mean blizzard brings deep snow and punishing winds, trapping Will and his cohorts beneath their upturned wagon. Adelia’s estranged husband, Swan, reappears from his job selling Baskin’s Kitchen Products; her oldest son, Edward, is headed home from prison; and wayward Rubyann returns from working in Havre’s booming bootleg district. The unexpected reunions – like the raging blizzard – create a turbulent swirl of emotions in the tiny teacherage.
Author Richard Sterry was raised on a Hi-Line wheat farm and taught high school English in Chester, before earning a master’s degree and doctorate, and teaching at universities in Idaho, New Jersey and Japan. He knows the harsh, isolated terrain of north-central Montana well, and deftly captures the Depression-Era desperation that undercuts his characters’ dreams.
Sterry also wrote a novel, Over the Fence, and a memoir, Far Out: My Life on the Edge. David McCumber describes his new work as “a crackling good story with an irresistible setting of time and place.”
– Kristi Niemeyer
By Jan Elpel
Jan Elpel’s third in a series of historical novels
unfolds across Montana Territory to Harvard University and engages Patrick Colter, a young law clerk, and his loyal rancher friends in an effort to solve a murder mystery and bring law and justice to the territory.
Colter’s wife, Shelley, and her controversial friends, a street woman and a liberated female physician, set their bonnets for women’s right to vote. Shelley becomes a rising star in the movement for women’s equality, which threatens her husband’s sense of a man’s place and position.
Along with tensions surrounding the drive for Montana statehood, the story portrays attitudes and relationships during a unique period of Butte’s mining boom, 1877-1879, after the Silver Bow gold rush and prior to the copper kings.
“Jan Elpel’s expertly-researched Montana tale, Heirloom China, brings with it danger, intrigue, courage and hope … Jam-packed with adventure and fascinating history, this book will capture you from the very first page,” writes Rachel Phillips, author of Legendary Locals of Bozeman.
Elpel is a journalist and author of historical novels Berrigan’s Ride and Healers of Big Butte.