Montana Quarterly: Counting our blessings

MQ2 (1 of 1)Editor’s note: This has been updated to cover a lamentable oversight.

Dear readers, consider this a public service announcement.

If you are not a subscriber to the Montana Quarterly, or if, God forbid, you have never even looked at a copy of that fine magazine, here’s what you should do: run out right now and buy the winter edition. It’s available at a lot of stores, including all the Albertsons stores, as far as I know.

The Montana Quarterly is always good, but this winter edition is uncommonly good, showcasing some of the MQ’s best writers doing what they do best.

Editor Scott McMillion offers up a piece on grizzly bear attacks and the rather tricky science of trying to determine which particular bear is responsible for which particular attack. Scott knows a lot about bears, and his easy-going mastery of the subject is on full display here.

John Clayton, who has made himself something of an expert on the American West—or at least an expert surveyor of all the ways we think about the West—contributes a piece that takes an in-depth look at what was previously little more than a cliche: John Steinbeck’s famous paean to Montana.

Craig Lancaster, whose explorations of relationships, fictional and nonfictional, deepen with time and his prodigious output, takes us with him on a quest to learn something about a mysterious uncle. Once you read it, the accompanying photo of three young children will haunt you for days.

John Warner, whose photography we tend to gush about more than is altogether seemly, has seven pages of spectacular photos of urban wildlife. You may recall his photo essay on Last Best News, “Benny’s big adventures.” These photos in the new MQ show you what he captured on film during those famous walks with Benny, in the heart of Billings Heights.

I’m not an expert in anything, but I also have a story in the new issue, a feature on the Pekin Noodle Parlor in Uptown Butte. I read the story again after it came out and I have to say it’s not bad—chiefly because Scott McMillion asked me to make several important changes to what I had written. As the proprietor of a one-man writing factory, I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to turn my copy over to a careful, experienced editor. And—bonus!—the photos accompanying my story were taken by John Warner. What else do you need to know?

There are several more good pieces, including Jeff Welsch’s dependably interesting profile of Saco and Brian D’Ambrosio’s loving portrait of Turkey Pete, a man who died at the age of 89 in 1967—entering his 50th year as an inmate of Montana State Prison.

To top it off, the last piece in the issue is a short story by Sid Gustafson, something that reads like an elegant exposition of a 1920s murder ballad. Damn it, was that a spoiler? Doesn’t matter. This piece is so good you have to stick with it to the end.

I’m telling you, people, we all need to realize how lucky we are to have such a magazine in Montana. And we need to support it. You could buy yourself a subscription. Or go to that same link and give a gift subscription. You want to impress your out-of-state friends with a Montana gift? This beats the hell out of a basket of huckleberry sausage.

Here’s the update: I didn’t even mention the first article in this issue. I was going to lead with it myself, and when I didn’t, it somehow slipped my mind.

The story is an examination of Montana’s gambling addiction—the reliance at all levels of government on the tax money generated by gambling—written by Alan Kesselheim in his usual thorough way. I like to dump money into the machines every now and then, but it’s hard to argue with Kesselhiem’s main point: that there is something not quite right with government not only allowing people to gamble, but actively promoting it in its lust for revenue.


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