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WHITE CROSSES by Larry Watson


by Larry Watson

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-671-56771-3
Publisher: Pocket

The coverup of a scandal by a well-intentioned Montana sheriff and its devastating consequences lie at the heart of this sequel to the well-received Montana 1948 (1993). Sheriff Jack Nevelsen is an unlikely law-and-order candidate; he prefers observation to action, and he doesn't carry a gun. He's also quietly going mad. In the claustrophobic precincts of the town of Bentrock, Nevelsen is bound to break; it begins when a wrecked car is found bearing the body of the respected high-school principal Leo Bauer—and that of a high-school senior, June Moss. Acting reflexively, Nevelsen concocts a story that Leo was helping his son Rick elope with June. During the course of forcing the story on Rick, an unpopular boy who disliked his father; on Leo's wife, Vivien; and on June's hapless and confused mother, he unleashes his own deepest hatreds: for his marriage to the frightened, repressed Nora; for his job; for his small town and its way of crippling lives. The plot often loses its way in random digressions and blatant attempts to forge connections between Montana's landscape and the sheriff's unraveling life and mind, yet much rings true: Nevelsen's need to ``protect'' society from knowledge; his perception that Leo was a good man, despite his flaws; his own manipulations to bring himself closer to the enigmatic, sexy Vivien. But the emergence of the truth—that Vivien knew Leo was leaving her; that Nora knows her marriage to Nevelsen dangles on a precipice; that he is heir to a family propensity for madness—is obscured by the gimmicky presence of June's cougar- hunting uncle Ralph, who stalks Nevelsen. Powerful in its evocation of awkward rural lives lunging for any sort of consummation, even if the result is destruction, this frequently haunting portrait of a doomed man is an unlikely but compelling blend of Appointment in Samarra and A River Runs Through It. (Author tour)