By Doug Hare EBS Staff
Scott McMillion, editor in chief of Montana Quarterly magazine, has for many years described the editorial philosophy of his publication as “Montana: warts and all.” That motto is now the name of a book that collects some of the best pieces from their first decade.
As the title suggests, this is not a book that profiles trophy mansions, recommends high-end resorts and expensive restaurants, or romanticizes living in the Treasure State. It is a book written by Montanans, about Montanans, for Montanans.
McMillion writes in the introduction: “That’s what we try to do … Rise above the fray to gain some perspective, then zero in for a good look around a small town, a cool bar, an overlooked piece of history, or somebody who’s trying to make the world a little better. Then we tell the story.”
The book is divided into eight sections. The first section “Living Wild” includes an unforgettable story by Tim Cahill about his death (and resurrection) in the Grand Canyon along with other less-fatal adventure stories. “Living Local” examines hardscrabble towns from the dusty corners of the state and reveals how their residents manage to live and make a living in these far-flung locales.
“Living History” and “First Montanans” are filled with historical nonfiction that reads like fiction. Ted Brewer’s article on a group of renegade cops in 1960s Butte is more thrilling than most crime novels. “Truth Tellers” takes a close look at painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers who use their artistic medium to make a positive social impact. Bill Kittredge’s piece cements Bud Guthrie’s classic “The Big Sky” as one of the greatest novels ever written about the last, best place.
“Eating and Drinking” brings the culture of some Montana’s most unique establishments to the forefront: saloons, bars, and distilleries whose history illuminates the uniqueness and difficulty of trying to make a buck from our state’s hard ground.
Perhaps the best section of the book is the last: “Fiction.” Craig Lancaster’s “Cruelty to Animals” is guaranteed to make you laugh and Pete Fromm’s “Orphan” is close to being a perfect short story.
Montana Quarterly is not a lifestyle magazine; our state already has plenty of those. It is a publication that takes a sober look at real life in Montana. Sure, there are criminals, miscreants, poverty, and tragic events in any state. There are “warts” to be sure but this book leaves you thinking more about the “and all”: the kind of people who get up every morning and go to work but wouldn’t mind being late if they had to pull someone out of a ditch.
The in-depth investigative journalism from this collection is a much-needed antidote to often superficial, tourist-oriented, whitewashed accounts of Montana. We are lucky so many talented contributors have told authentic stories—the ones you won’t find in a travel brochure. I think it is safe to say that Montana Quarterly will continue to be one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier publications for another decade and beyond.
Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.