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A series of bests in both books and politics

Regional writers are a resource we can draw upon like our lake. There is clarity to a novel that is enhanced when the reader knows the author’s landscape. A crisp, cup-full of snowmelt could describe Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson. Johnson, not generally considered a ‘regional’ author, must live around here at least part of the time. He would not have been able to write Train Dreams with such authenticity if he lived year around in L.A.

Years ago, in the old brick-across-from-the-hospital Sandpoint Library, while looking for Tim Robbins, I discovered Marilyn Robinson and her fine novel Housekeeping. This startling story of a tramp aunt and a mother’s suicide is set in Sandpoint. I felt like Marco Polo discovering the source of silk.

There is a great writer living in Spokane, a winning writer, Jess Walter, whose books have been mentioned in this column before. Discovered again by accident (Galileo finding the rings of Saturn) in the Sandpoint Library because he is shelved next to Minette Walters—a pretty good mystery writer herself—Walter just keeps getting better and better. 

His first book—written after his experiences covering the story for the Spokesman Review—on the Ruby Ridge debacle presents a balanced view of the craziness on both sides of the rifles. People wishing for insights about North Idaho and Sanders County could start here (Every Knee Shall Bow: The Truth and Tragedy of Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver Family). People liking mysteries will fall for Walter’s Tumbled Graves. Walter’s take on our recent financial meltdown led him to write one hell of a hilarious satire, Financial Lives of Poets.

Jess Walter’s latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, is the best damn book I’ve read so far this year, and I’ll wager it will win awards. Walter juggles eight characters in the air for fifty years across two countries and makes it work lovingly. Starting in Italy during the filming of Cleopatra, the novel looks back at WWII, then forward to today’s media. Social satire is at its best when Walter dissects Hollywood and reality TV (drunken midget house). In a fine creative and satisfying finale—which Sandpoint folks are going to love—every character, except Richard Burton, comes together. Slightly flawed characters have insights into themselves, and some are shown to have redeemed themselves. The terribly flawed are marginalized.  It is a delightful story, well told.

With resources like Jess Walter none of us should go dry.


Due to the committed efforts of the Bull River Clinic Board, the clinic will not disappear. Board members Diane Mosely, Dillion Lee and Carmen Compton have secured the sponsorship of Bonner General Hospital. “We are tickled,” said Lee, while modestly soft-peddling the board’s five-month long campaign to save the rural clinic. When the Clark Fork Valley Hospital announced the closure of the Clinic, the news caused great consternation from Trout Creek west to Clark Fork. It is the only medical resource within a 40-mile radius and, as such, is very important to us country people. In addition, Trout Creek, Noxon and Heron people have taxed themselves to pay the overhead costs of the clinic. 

The clinic will reopen in the fall under a new, and presumably a more compassionate sponsor.

Another big win:

Exxon/Mobile has decided that their ‘big rigs’ can, after all, be cut down to squeeze under the interstate bypasses. This whole scheme stunk from the beginning. The oil company balked at paying Canadian wages to build the monster machines (30’ high, 24’ wide, and 225’ long) that will work the Kearle Oil Sands fields in Alberta. In a snit, they went to Korea to have the monsters built. The machines then have to be transported across the Pacific, barged up the Columbia and the Snake to Idaho, and then driven to Alberta.

 The Port of Lewiston, Idaho, anxious to prove essential to transportation (we need these Snake River dams), welcomed the barged giants. From Lewiston, the scheme was to haul the big loads over Lolo Pass, through Missoula, up the Blackfoot River, and along the Front Range—all on state two lane highways.

The whole scheme was made public by a small group of landowners living along the Lochsa River. Outfitters, resort owners and regular folks saw that the oversized loads would create traffic and environmental problems. They formed a group—fighting Goliath—to inform the rest of the world what abomination Exxon was planning. And once the public realized what was quietly being schemed, public opinion—even though both Idaho and Montana Governors supported the plan—stopped the big rigs. It helped that one got stranded atop the pass during winter weather, underlining what a stupid idea it was.

Occasionally, the Davids prevail and the Goliaths, whether a hospital with backward accounting methods or a multinational oil company, sometimes fail. 

Celebrate by reading a good book—I recommend Beautiful Ruins.

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson, Jess Walter, Bonner General Hospital, Currents, Bull River Clinic, Train Dreams, Denis Johnson, Tumbled Graves, Financial Lives of Poets, Beautiful Ruins, Port of Lewiston, Every Knee Shall Bow: The Truth and Tragedy of Rub

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