The second novel from Hull (Pale Morning Done, 2005) poignantly depicts a hardscrabble town in northern Montana as seen through a high school hazing scandal.
Tom Warner—an outsider recently transplanted to Dumont after a personal tragedy and the divorce that followed—is a highly successful coach of eight-man football, and his team has just completed an undefeated regular season and is looking to the playoffs. In a tiny burg like Dumont, the prospect of a state championship galvanizes everyone, even those with scant interest in sports. But first there’s the five-hour drive back to town after their final game. Tom gives his assistant permission to drive home with his bride, and then—sitting up front near the bus driver, the only other adult aboard—he dozes. Meanwhile, in back, a scrawny underclassman is taped nude to a luggage rack and tormented. Such incidents—“boys being boys,” townsmen keep insisting—have long been a “tradition,” but this one’s been recorded on a cheerleader’s phone, and the story not only spreads across Dumont, but attracts media attention from away. The book’s other point-of-view character is a promising, outgoing student named Josie Frehse, sister of the team’s star runner and girlfriend of the quarterback, who is the hazing incident’s instigator. Through Hull’s nimble, empathetic prose, we see Tom and Josie negotiate the incident’s aftermath: the scandal it’s ignited and the fault lines—ethnic, romantic, and generational—it’s exposed. Toward the end, the novel veers from the quiet psychological subtlety that’s distinguished it into splashier, more conventional territory. But that small defect doesn’t mar Hull’s real achievement in depicting life in a remote, threatened prairie town—and doing so without stooping either to nostalgia or cynicism.
A sharp-eyed, often touching portrait of a fractured community and a harshly beautiful landscape.