Just before I left on vacation, I received a nice surprise in the mail. An old colleague from the Montana Standard, Jeff Gibson, had mailed me a copy of his self-published novel, “Last Rites of Passage, which I finished a couple of days ago.
Jeff was the editorial page editor when I worked in Butte, and he was always good, even when he had to write one of those editorials when his heart wasn’t really in it — and if you’ve spent much time in a newsroom you know how common that situation is. In other words, Jeff could always write well, in a pinch, in a hurry, whatever. The one thing I wasn’t aware of that he could do was be funny in print. But then the powers-that-be at the Standard decided it was time to publish an in-house newsletter — monthly, I think — and Jeff took charge of that. And damn me if he wasn’t funnier than hell, issue after issue. As I recall, it was as a result of that experience that he started writing a collection of short, mostly funny items in place of the Monday editorial, and soon it was the best thing he did all week.
I mention all this by way of saying that it is no surprise that this self-published novel, written by Jeff in his retirement, is so good. It is a short and simple book that alternates between scenes from the narrator’s youth, growing up in Livingston (here called Riverside), and scenes from a disastrous hike into the mountains involving the narrator, now old and rather creaky, and one of his childhood friends. There is love and fighting and jealousy, fishing, gun fire and tragedy — not the least of which is that the old men are deep into their multiple-day hike when they realize they forgot the coffee! The horror! It shivers me as I think of it now.
But the main thing is that there is a clear-eyed honesty and authenticity about everything in the book. If somebody wanted to know what Montana was like 50 or 60 years ago — when “the religion of fly-fishing had not yet descended into zealotry,” as Jeff says — you couldn’t do much better than handing him this book. (And did I mention that it is also available in electronic format?)
I can’t imagine that Gibson would object to my giving you his address, in case you’re interested in buying a real copy of the book: 3322 Keokuk, Butte, Mont., 59701.