It is not often that I come across a book that I put aside to wait anxiously for that peaceful time of night when all is quiet, and I can start what promises to be a really good read. That is the anticipation I had when I received High Country to review. The promotional material calls it “writing in the tradition of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.” It had all the ingredients that would interest me: a storyline placed in the history of the 1930s in the Bitterroot Valley and Swan Mountain range of my adopted home country. However, it does not compare to Maclean’s book. The story is slow and methodical, and in several places the historical facts are wrong.
In brief, sixteen-year-old Ty Hardin leaves his family’s failing ranch during the Great Depression to work with a packer, Fenton Pardee. Pardee operates out of the Swan Valley and packs into the rugged Swan Range, which later became known as the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The story moves through Ty’s adventures with the legendary Pardee and then into his enlistment and adventures in World War II. Once home from the war, Ty moves on to the high country of the Sierra Nevada, where an older, more mature Ty becomes a legend in his own right.
It would have been easy for the author to look at a map of Montana and see that the Clark Fork River, rather than the Blackfoot River, flows by the University of Montana. It is very glaring to the reader who knows the difference, and the author mentions the misplaced Blackfoot more than once. Also, it is not historically correct to write that miners were working the mines in Anaconda, Montana; this was a smelting town built to process the copper that was mined in nearby Butte, Montana. Historical misrepresentations detract from any story, and certainly detract from High Country.