Too Good to Be True: The Life and Work of Leslie Fiedler

By Mark Royden Winchell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
True West

WHEN LESLIE visited Montana in 1969, he felt less a tourist from the East than a native returning home. Ironically, he had never known that feeling of belonging when he lived in Missoula. He was struck first by the surface familiarity. Little had changed in either the natural or man-made landscape. His observations in “Montana; or the End of Jean-Jacques Rousseau” seemed as disconcertingly true as they had when he made them twenty years earlier: “There were the same wooden faces under the broad-brimmed Stetsons and the bright colored headscarves bulging over half-concealed curlers” (CE, 2:338). The only innovation seemed to be the newly acquired fad among teenage boys to run coyotes down with their motorcycles.

A few of the old structures were gone: “a new bridge replacing an old one from which a friend once nearly jumped to her death; a new highway scarring the side of a hill where my two oldest boys at five or six or seven used to play among poisonous ticks for which we would search the hairline at the back of their necks just before bedtime” (338). What Leslie would have liked best “would have been a trip to the Buffalo Preserve at Moiese and a last encounter with the old albino bull, into whose unreadable blear eyes I used to look through the wire fence, feeling myself each time I returned a little more like that totem beast—a little shaggier, a little heavier, a little whiter” (339). But in the critic's absence, the beast had died.

The school hadn't changed much, although it was now called the University of Montana. Leslie found himself “looking up at the `M' made of whitewashed stones on the side of Mount Sentinel, and wondering who had won the five dollar prize this year for suggesting `the best new tradition' ” (339). The house where he used to live was still owned by the Unitarian Fellowship. He was pleased to discover that they had faithfully retained the four-toed foot that he and his boys had painted on the fence as their family emblem. Whether it continued to bug the neighbors as it had in his own time would have to be a question for another day. Intent on finding the Missoula he most fondly

-192-

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