Sid's novels reviewed
Swift Dam, reviewed in Outside Bozeman
Local author (and veterinarian) Sid Gustafson’s latest book, Swift Dam (Open Books, $7), is set against the real-life tragedy of the Swift Dam collapse in 1964, when 30 people died in dam collapses and flooding in northwest Montana. Gustafson tells the story of a veterinarian and his life, work, and relationship with the Blackfeet Nation. The vet, Fingers Vallerone, mourns the losses of not just the individuals but of a culture. Gustafson embodies the storytelling culture in his distinctive style of prose. The discourse is at times sparse, and yet at others curiously insistent. It is a fast read, but tantalizing threads leave you picking through them long after you have finished. Gustafson uses landscape as the language of the Blackfeet Nation, and his intimate knowledge and sense of place shines through. Gustafson’s text seems to be a man’s book about men, with a masculine, almost patriarchal tone that probably reflects its characters. —DEBBIE DREWS
Practicing veterinarian and journalist Sid Gustafson’s new novel, Swift Dam (Open Books, $14.95) is a short but satisfying read. In telling the story of an elderly veterinarian who sits out one long night under the dam and recalls the day of the great flood 50 years earlier that wiped out a large Blackfeet community, Gustafson evokes the landscape and the lives of an area still devastated half a century after the flood. But, of course, the wounds go much deeper and are much older. And the mysteries surrounding the lives of the people are deep and entangled. Like Gustafson’s previous novels, Horses They Rode and Prisoners of Flight, this is a book that demonstrates personal empathy and a sure hand with image.
Literary reviews and links to reviews
Washington State Magazine Book Review summer '07
Horses They Rode
By Sid Gustafson '77
Riverbend Publishing, Helena, Montana, 2006
Midway through Sid Gustafson’s new novel, Horses They Rode, I found myself put in mind of all the second chances I have had. His take on the reknitting of family, friendship, and one man’s tumultuous life is such a story—a tale of second chances where hope effervesces across a storyscape of high country, horse corrals, drunkenness, and regret that seems, at moments, irresolvable. It’s a wholly American novel, for of course, America is a land forgiving of first mistakes—where a shot at trying again is fair and right.
Wendel Ingraham, Gustafson’s protagonist, is a ranch hand who has roamed Washington State’s Inland Empire, Idaho’s panhandle, and Big Sky Country on a multi-year binge, leaving a daughter and a broken marriage in his wake. A series of experiences, including encounters with a high-school sweetheart and with mentor, companion, and part-time Blackfoot medicine man Bubbles Ground Owl, leads to his sobriety and amends.
Wendel and Bubbles take jobs as hands on a ranch where they worked as youths. And this is where the novel cries its message in earnest. The protagonist is never so competent as when he’s reunited with his beloved horse. The symbiosis that is rediscovered between them, a language of faithfulness and trust, portends atonements awaiting Wendel. A gathering of horsemen and their mounts prompts language from Gustafson that is a gorgeous but gritty admixture of potential:
“Whoever they were, whatever breed of horsemen, they brought horses and they brought hope, hope that horses could revive a manifest heart.”
At the ranch there are additional reconciliations required of Ingraham. In their execution, he emerges whole, “. . . grateful for all the people who’d gathered to live the life they knew best, everything and everyone connected, men and animals, fishes and birds, grass, trees and stars.”
As in his first novel, Prisoners of Flight, Gustafson often joyfully eschews writing conventions. By turns, his forms are starkly tangible or cloaked in mythology. His prose is exuberant and accessible. Rhythmic, he often reads like a long poem: “Parents want their children with them, children of the land, something about having your children with you on the land, native children on native land.”
Horses They Rode is a one-sitting book. And it’s the kind of book about something important in a world full of books about unimportant things. People should like it.
—Brian Ames ’85
Montana Quarterly Magazine
Book Review by Justin Easter, Spring ‘07
Horses They Rode
By Sid Gustafson
Riverbend Publishing, 288 pages, $24.95
Bozeman author and veterinarian Sid Gustafson has the rare ability to take you from your seat and place you directly in his novel.
He accomplishes this in Horses They Rode not with the all-too-common literary tactics we are used to, but through the use of fascinating imagery. While giving the reader familiar points in Montana to use as reference, Gustafson Brings his readers into a different countryside than the one we see from our windows.
Gustafson brings his reader into a world where Indians and cowboys live together, and before the novel even progresses, the affect of this relationship, however strained, is evident to the reader. The nomadic qualities of Gustafson’s characters echo throughout the novel and resonate in any reader who has felt an itch for exploration.
If you are interested in opening a book that will captivate your imagination while encouraging introspection, you need not look further than Horses They Rode. You may put this novel down wondering about the spirit of the mountains, the relationships you have with people around you, or even the relationship you have with yourself. This is, of course, not surprising when you realize Gustafson is using his own experiences to masterfully shape his characters.
Expect to read one of the finer stories related to quickly dissipating Montana culture, and one of the most impressive novels written by a Montana author this year. Hold on to your emotions, because there will most likely be an instant when Gustafson is able to open your mind in a way that is truly fascinating.
Christian Science Monitor
“Montana books” have been famously popular for a couple of decades,
some of the finest authors have aged and even died. Is that the end of
the genre? Emphatically NO, I’m prepared to say after reading
They Rode” by Sid Gustafson.
This is a guy who was born here, grew up here, practices veterinary
medicine here, and raises his children here. He not only knows
Montana, he knows the Blackfeet Reservation. Sure, he’s hoisted a
with friendly drunks, but he’s also ridden in cattle drives, enjoys
lifetime friendships, and quietly cares for ancient graves near his
home ranch. He also has a Montana publisher, so you might not hear
about him back East.
This story is about race horses. None dies.
HORSES THEY RODE TOPS CHRONICLE BOOKLIST:
The Chronicle contacted three book stores -- Country Bookshelf of Bozeman, Books and Music Ect. of Livingston and Vargo's Jazz City and Books of Bozeman -- for suggestions of books by local authors that would make good gifts, or at least local authors who have been in high demand among customers.
Listed below are some of their recommendations.
"Horses They Rode" by Sid Gustafson. Riverbend Publishing. $24.95. The newest novel by the Bozeman author and veterinarian tells the story of Montana native who returns to the ranch where he was raised. Much of the story revolves around the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Glacier National Park. The work has received a thumbs up from Jim Harrison of "Legends of the Fall" fame.
Praire Mary Scriver review
HORSES THEY RODE by Sid Gustafson
1. Brakeman: The ride with the realbear
2. The Horse Medicine Man: Drinking with Bubbles
3. Outdoorsmen: Browning alley drinking
4. Red Man: Jesse James takes them to the ranch
5. Journeymen: Mabel and recovery
6. Studman: Rip, racehorses, and the son, Paddy
7. Grassman: Riding with Paddy
8. Other Men: Continental drift
9. Woman: Gretchen and cows
10. Wolfman: The wolf who drank with the cows
11. Lady’s Man: Making love
12. Ranch Man: Rip the boss
13. Lineman: Struck by lightning
14. Hiwayman: Driving to Spokane
15. Marathon Man: The race track
16. Legman: Doc the adulterer
17. Gentleman: Dealing with Willow
18. Newman: Wisdom from Bo
19. Milkman: Trish
20. Hiwayman: Homebound
21. Mystery Man: Nan comes aboard
22. Fireman: Back at the ranch
23. Middleman: Between wolf and dog, living in Palookaville
24. Gambling Man: Horserace
25. Mountain Man: Calling from summit
26. Weatherman: Rain and waiting
27. Horsemen: The race
28. Earthman: Burying Bubbles
29. Man: The Horse Medicine Bundle
Above is a list of the chapter titles of “Horses They Rode” by Sid Gustafson. It is immediately clear that this book is about what it is to be a MAN. It is also clear, even on the surface, that this is a Montana book. Sid grew up not far from where I’m living in Valier, the publisher is in Montana, the story happens mostly in Montana, and much of it is about Blackfeet, whom Sid can describe gracefully and honestly. So what is it REALLY about? I’d say it was about what it takes to be a mensch in a modern world that presses competition, toughness, ownership and emotional isolation as the measure of men. The final message is that real men are about nurturing: caring for those around them whether people, animals or grass. A natural conclusion for an author who is a veterinarian and a father.
One of the blurb reviews (by Neil McMahon) says that when he first began to read he was “taken aback, then disturbed.” After fifty pages he was drawn in and “humbled.” I had the same reaction, probably because the first chapter was written as a short story (much like Judy Blunt’s “Breaking Clean,” first chapter) and then the novel grew out of it. The first chapter is a picaresque, an exploit, a rather unlikely tale about a guy who jumps a freight out of Spokane in order to get back to the Blackfeet Rez and who is joined by a grizzly craving wheat residue in his boxcar. They don’t ship wheat in boxcars. Still, the grizzly, which in Blackfeet language is called a “real bear” in the same way that buffalo are “real meat,” acts like an actual bear.
The hero acts like 007 and climbs to the top of the train, then works his way back intending to get into the caboose, but this is after they stopped towing cabooses. There’s just a little digitized blinking box. The bear is “she” and Wendell’s reaction is to pray to the Virgin Mary. This discussion of “real men” is going to include relationships to the fe-male. And his daughter, rather than a lover or mother, is the key. But in the second chapter, Wendell is drinking at the Browning depot with an old Indian friend, so this is going to include red-men as well. But the Indian is not the key -- it’s the six-year-old daughter who brings the real delight and the son who brings the moral measure in that twelve-year-old straightforward way.
The plot is simple and the ending is pretty predictable, but Sid’s telling of the story, once he’s on the way, is extraordinary, laced with poetry and mythology, geology and anthropology. He’s as comfortable with image as with science. What he does NOT do is agonize over psychology. He’s hurting, he comes home, home is a place where everyone nurtures and heals each other, he finds his children, and he buries his good friend, a final kind of nurturing -- imperfect as things can be. Simple.
The language is extraordinary: lumpy, sometimes puzzling, grammar every which way, vernacular and poetry blurring into each other, medical terms when needed, fancy references (St. Wendell is the patron saint of wanderers and wolves.) It’s the sort of writing that makes some people sniff that it ought to have had a good editor -- and other people laugh that proper editing would ruin it! Sid is an original. (Montana NEEDS originals! Our supply is low.)
Nevertheless, since I’ve been in this country (off and on) almost as long as Sid’s been alive, and happen to know his family sort of from a distance, he came by all this stuff honestly, genetically and through nurturing. His sibs are equally extraordinary because the parents are larger-the-life, Vikings, massive and extravagant, and yet benign, inclusive. They don’t crush everything around them as some people in Montana certainly try to do.
But neither are the people in this book easily captured. The crushers want insurance, ownership, a sure thing. Sid’s book outlines an intimacy that is tolerant, allowing people to stay individual, keep their boundaries, make their own decisions. He’s willing to take chances. A real man meets his obligations but it appears that they center mostly on fatherhood, not good old dependable, chained-up husbandhood. There’s no husbandman on this list of chapters. Maybe he’ll explain in the next book. Sign me up in advance.
One of the key things that struck me is that though the main character is a veterinarian, there’s almost nothing here about drugs or surgery. (Sid’s practice emphasises natural medicine.) Healing is “hands-on,” rubbing, feeling, smoothing, connecting. When I was doing my hospital chaplaincy, a woman was dying. One of her symptoms was aching legs. Her husband stood by the bed hour-after-hour, patiently rubbing her legs which she said helped more than any medicine. It was about love. So is this book.
Preview by Ronda Clark, D.V.M.
First Aid for the Active Dog
As a veterinarian and canine performance exhibitor, I think many exhibitors would beneﬁt
from and appreciate ﬁrst aid information that they can have at their ﬁngertips.
I found Dr. Gustafson's text, First Aid for the Active Dog, to be just the ticket for
referencing information quickly and easily, especially when one is traveling with
a dog and a vet isn't readily accessible. With just over 110 pages, the book is
small enough to put in a training bag or pack. Before discussing the causes, signs, and
treatments for individual diseases or injuries, the ﬁrst four chapters give ex-
cellent insight into accident prevention, securing the scene of the accident to
prevent further harm to dog or owner, restraining and examining injured or
sick dogs, and taking and evaluating vital signs. Gustafson also includes muzzling tech-
niques, normal heart rates, respiratory rates, normal pupil size, and response
evaluation. Subsequent sections cover primary body systems and are
further subdivided into more particular chapters addressing speciﬁc problems:
vomiting or diarrhea, wounds and bleeding, exposure to extreme heat or cold seizures.
Throughout the book, many photographs and illustrations show techniques
for restraint and handling of injured dogs. FirstAid for the Active Dog is a
book suitable for most types of canine performance activities,
be it flyball or agility, hunting or hiking, ﬁshing, or even search and rescue.
I found the book an informative addition to any dog enthusiast's library.
"Caution" boxes reiterate important points mentioned in preceding topics. Also sprinkled throughout the
book are captioned "Dog First Aid Tips" that stress situations that are likely be-
yond a lay person's expertise and encourage handlers to seek veterinary attention
as soon as possible. A common phrase threaded throughout the entire book is
"First, do no harm," a reminder that dog owners should not attempt to perform
procedures they are unfamiliar with, or administer medications that may not be
approved for use in dogs.
Each chapter lists:
* Common causes
* Frequent signs and symptoms
* Prevention suggestions
* Treatment options and recommendations
The last seven chapters discuss environmental dangers, including insect bites
and stings, snakebite, porcupine quills, ﬁshhooks and lines, hypothermia and
frostbite, heat stroke and dehydration. First Aid for the Active Dog is a book
suitable for most types of canine performance activities, be it ﬂyball or agility,
hunting or hiking, ﬁshing, or even search and rescue.
I found the book a professionally written informative addition to any dog enthusiast's library.
Ronda Clark has been a small animal veterinarianin Texas since 1986. She started
competing in agility in 1996 and has put Masters titles on three Cairn Terriers and
a Miniature Poodle.