Get inspired for your next trip by reading some emblematic books set in Montana. Discover authors that have shown light on this unique State through their stories.
Montana, known as the “Big Sky Country,” is a place of wild and untamed beauty that has inspired countless authors to set their stories against its expansive landscapes. As a tourist destination, it offers a unique blend of breathtaking natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture that makes it a fascinating backdrop for many compelling narratives.
The state is renowned for its stunning wilderness areas, including Glacier National Park with its glacier-carved peaks and valleys, and Yellowstone National Park, known for its wildlife and geothermal features. These landscapes provide an exhilarating setting for outdoor adventures, from hiking and camping in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The vast plains and towering mountains of Montana have served as the perfect canvas for authors to weave tales of adventure, mystery, and romance, bringing the state’s scenic beauty to life on the pages of their books.
Beyond its natural wonders, Montana boasts a rich cultural heritage that adds depth and texture to any story. From the historical gold rush town of Virginia City to the bustling modern city of Missoula, known for its arts scene and the University of Montana, there’s a wealth of experiences to explore. The state’s history, steeped in the traditions of the Native American tribes, the pioneering spirit of the settlers, and the daring exploits of the gold prospectors, provides a rich tapestry for authors to draw from, making Montana not just a setting, but a character in its own right in many books.
Montana in Books
“A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean
Outline: This semi-autobiographical novella revolves around the Maclean family in early 20th century Montana. The narrator, Norman, and his rebellious younger brother, Paul, bond over the art of fly-fishing. While Norman settles into teaching and family life, Paul’s life becomes more turbulent. Through the act of fishing, the story beautifully explores themes of love, family, and the ties that bind us.
“The Whistling Season” by Ivan Doig
Outline: Set in 1909 Montana, the story follows a widower named Oliver Milliron and his three sons who hire a housekeeper from a newspaper ad. When the housekeeper and her brother arrive, the lives of the Milliron family change in unexpected ways. The narrative delves into the power of education, rural life, and the unpredictability of people.
“The Horse Whisperer” by Nicholas Evans
Outline: After a tragic accident involving her daughter and their horse, a mother named Annie Graves brings them to Montana in hopes of healing. They seek the help of Tom Booker, a “horse whisperer” with an extraordinary gift. As Tom works to mend the broken spirit of the horse, unexpected romances and deep transformations ensue.
“English Creek” by Ivan Doig
Outline: This novel is set in 1939 in the Two Medicine country of Montana. It follows 14-year-old Jick McCaskill over one summer as he navigates the complexities of family secrets, community, and the natural world. Through Jick’s eyes, the reader gets a glimpse of Montana’s history and the intricacies of human relationships.
“The Surrounded” by D’Arcy McNickle
Outline: Archilde Leon, a Salish man, returns to the Montana reservation after a long absence to find himself caught between the world of his people and the world of the white settlers. The story explores themes of identity, belonging, and cultural tension.
“Winter in the Blood” by James Welch
Outline: This novel follows an unnamed protagonist, a young Blackfeet man, through his journey across Montana. He grapples with personal loss, identity, and the weight of his heritage. The story paints a poignant picture of life on the reservation and the challenges faced by its residents.
“The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology” edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith
Outline: This anthology collects various works – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – that capture the essence of Montana. While not a traditional novel, it provides a comprehensive look at the state’s culture, history, and landscape through the eyes of numerous writers.
“Dancing at the Rascal Fair” by Ivan Doig
Outline: The narrative follows the lives of two Scottish immigrants, Angus and Rob, as they arrive in Montana in the 1880s. They face challenges in love, friendship, and the quest for land. The novel chronicles their lives, hardships, and the foundation they lay for the generations to come.
“Perma Red” by Debra Magpie Earling
Outline: Set on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1940s, the story revolves around Louise White Elk, a young woman determined to forge her own path in a world dominated by men and the oppressive weight of history. As she navigates love and danger, the novel delves into themes of desire, betrayal, and identity.
“Fourth of July Creek” by Smith Henderson
Outline: This gripping novel follows social worker Pete Snow as he tries to help Benjamin Pearl, a nearly feral boy living in the Montana wilderness. As Pete gets involved with the boy’s family, he uncovers dark secrets and faces moral dilemmas. The story portrays a raw and bleak view of life in rural America.