Today in our Top Books by State series, we are looking at two books set in Montana. This western state is characterized by some of the most beautiful landscapes in America. A visit to Montana can bring you within reach of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Park. Due to many ranches and protected land, Montana is one of the least populated states in the country. This beauty and loneliness are often combined in the literature from the state. Join us today as we look at some of the best books from Big Sky Country on the Montana portion of our literary road trip across the United States.
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean is a semi-autobiographical collection of two short stories and a novella of the same name, inspired by his relationship with his late brother. Often focusing on fly fishing, the book contains passages detailing the beauty of the landscape and the sport. It was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, but no award for literature was given, stating it was a lean year for fiction. The book was adapted into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course, I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana, where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans is set on a ranch at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and tells the story of a girl and a horse both traumatized by an accident and how they overcome it together. One of the bestselling books of all time, the novel was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford and a young Scarlett Johansson.
It was in America that horses first roamed. A million years before the birth of man, they grazed the vast plains of wiry grass and crossed to other continents over bridges of rock soon severed by retreating ice. They first knew man as the hunted knows the hunter, for long before he saw them as a means to killing other beasts, man killed them for their meat.
Paintings on the walls of caves showed how. Lions and bears would turn and fight, and that was the moment men speared them. But the horse was a creature of flight, not fight, and, with simple, deadly logic, the hunter used flight to destroy it. Whole herds were driven hurtling headlong to their deaths from the tops of cliffs. Deposits of their broken bones bore testimony. And though later he came pretending friendship, the alliance with man would ever be but fragile, for the fear he'd struck into their hearts was too deep to be dislodged.
Since that neolithic moment when first a horse was haltered, there were those among men who understood this.
They could see into the creature's soul and soothe the wounds they found there. Often they were seen as witches, and perhaps they were. Some wrought their magic with the bleached bones of toads plucked from moonlit streams. Others, it was said, could, with but a glance, root the hooves of a working team to the earth they plowed. There were gypsies and showmen, shamans, and charlatans. And those who truly had the gift were wont to guard it wisely, for it was said that he who drove the devil out might also drive him in. The owner of a horse you calmed might shake your hand and then dance around the flames while they burned you in the village square
For secrets uttered softly into pricked and troubled ears, these men were known as Whisperers.