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March 16 , 2011

Montana Women


There is a rare freshness to this story of friendship between two sisters: recently- widowed Etta is eccentric, spontaneous, even "fast" by local standards. Pearl, whose fiancé is missing in action overseas, is measured and valiant. When Pearl meets Buck, Etta is unimpressed and warns Pearl that he is trouble. Pearl, jarred out of depression by his charm, becomes pregnant and the two marry and settle on his father's ranch. Their daughter Katie, born on the day the United States bombs Hiroshima, becomes the focal point of their lives, including Buck's grizzled father's.

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 During the 1800's the "Planchette" was a popular game in the parlor's which consisted of a board of wood with a pencil attached and two wheels. Then the curious players would place the tips of their fingers on the board of wood and if they were lucky the spirits would guide the movement of hands creating words on the paper directly…

Life on the ranch, despite the harsh reality of wind, weather and hard work, agrees with Pearl, and she picks up the slack those times Buck, weighed down by his father's disapproval and the memory of his mother's death, fails to show up. What, Buck wonders for years, would be important enough to a woman to make her go back into a fire? The loss of this parent at a young age, the strangeness of her death—these become irritants that infect his relations with women, even with his daughter.

Meanwhile, Etta maintains both the home in town left to the sisters by their parents and an emotional support system that Pearl and Katie can count on. Though Etta dabbles in the spiritual and with a few intimate relationships, she comes to see how much she lives off the "leftovers" of Pearl and Katie's life.

When Pearl realizes that Buck "chippies around," she struggles to redefine her self. Can she fit herself back into a small life in town after living one vastly enlarged by the open prairie? she wonders. Katie too, as the behavior around her turns reckless, struggles to hold safe ground between her love for her parents and self-preservation.

Vulnerable, spirited, tough-minded: Etta and Pearl are women to remember. Their story reflects the desolate lyrical landscape of Montana east of the Continental Divide. It is a complex story, told by a voice as subtly beautiful and clean as the prairie.

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