Larry Watson's previous fiction evoking contemporary Western small-town life has won him awards, a dedicated readership, and unqualified critical praise. Now he has written a novel that envelops the rich emotional terrain of his beloved Montana in a mystery that is both unexpected and unforgettable.
After a nighttime accident at the bottom of Sprull Hill in Bentrock, Sheriff Jack Nevelsen is compelled to try and protect a part of his hometown that even a hero would have trouble saving -- its innocence. For most everyone in the community would agree that June Moss, the quiet girl who had just graduated from high school, and Leo Bauer, the principal of Bentrock Elementary and a married man like Jack, had no business heading out of town together.
As Jack sets out to unravel the mystery of their deaths, he begins to create a story to shield his town, a lie that will reverberate throughout an entire community, and into the shadows of his own heart.
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The motives behind human behavior are seldom simple or singular. What motivates Jack Nevelsen to act as he does? What about other characters in the novel?
The novel's action takes place in 1957. Could it have happened in the 1990's?
The 1950's are often characterized as a buttoned-up, repressed decade. In what ways can White Crosses be read as a novel about repression?
What role does the community of Bentrock play in influencing the behavior of various characters?
Jack Nevelsen concocts a lie because he believes the truth will damage his community. What is the source of his belief? Does it come primarily from his knowledge of the town and its citizens or from his own character? From what you learn of the town, is his belief justified?
Telling a lie seems to release something in Jack Nevelsen's nature. What is it? Why does it?
Much of the novel is concerned with Jack Nevelsen's perceptions, which are wrong almost as often as they are right. What are examples of both his accurate and inaccurate perceptions?
Through the course of the novel, what aspects of his own personality is Jack Nevelsen forced to confront?
How might the relationship between Jack and Nora Nevelsen be described?
Why does Jack Nevelsen suspect his wife of having had an affair?
How would you characterize the lie that Jack Nevelsen devises? Is it naive? Desperate? Evil?
In the classical Greek tragedy, the hero, through pride and arrogance, brings about his own downfall. Is this true about Jack Nevelsen?
Larry Watson was born in Rugby, North Dakota and raised in Bismarck. He is the recipient of the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a National Endowment of the Arts award, and the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association Regional Book Award. Watson teachers English at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Points.