White Crosses

White Crosses

  • reading group guide
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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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671567736 | 
  • April 1998
List Price $28.99

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

When Sheriff Jack Nevelsen got the call from the dispatcher about the accident out on Highway 284 -- single car, two fatalities -- his first thought was, kids. Teenagers. Oh, sweet Jesus, somebody's babies.

It was ten o'clock Sunday night, May 28, 1957, and Bentrock High School's senior class had graduated that afternoon. Mercer County's roads and highways were going to be traveled that night by kids going from party to party. And they were going to be drinking.

This was Jack's fear every year at graduation, that a kid -- or worse, kids, a whole car full of them -- would get drunk and try to beat a train to a... see more

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. 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?
  2. The novel's action takes place in 1957. Could it have happened in the 1990's?
  3. 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?
  4. What role does the community of Bentrock play in influencing the behavior of various characters?
  5. 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?
  6. Telling a lie seems to release something in Jack Nevelsen's nature. What is it? Why does it?
  7. 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?
  8. Through the course of the novel, what aspects of his own personality is Jack Nevelsen forced to confront?
  9. How might the relationship between Jack and Nora Nevelsen be described?
  10. Why does Jack Nevelsen suspect his wife of having had an affair?
  11. How would you characterize the lie that Jack Nevelsen devises? Is it naive? Desperate? Evil?
  12. In the classical Greek
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