Book Review: Adventures of A Montana Misfit

(Lyle Manley, Sweetgrass Books, 2014 [ vol.1] and 2016 [vol.2];

By AARON PARRETT

Between them, the two volumes of Lyle Manley’s memoir, Adventures of a Montana Misfit and More Adventures of a Montana Misfit, run to nearly a thousand pages. Subtitled “Coming of Age in the 1950s and 60s,” Manley’s books detail with good humor and hard-earned wisdom the experience of moving through the awkward teenage years into adulthood in various parts of Montana.

The entire enterprise is consummately charming, from the black-cover blurb from the author’s mother (“Please buy this book. I’m pretty sure he needs the money.”) to the self-deprecating humor artfully sustained throughout the book.

Manley’s experiences will speak to anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 60s. He thoroughly documents his memories and impressions of life in those decades as seen through the eyes of an intelligent, if slightly awkward, young man.

When Manley was 8 years old, his father uprooted the family from the Edenic paradise of southern California and relocated to Pony, Mont. Eventually, the Manley clan settled for a time in Bozeman then moved to Great Falls, where Lyle graduated from Great Falls High in 1968.

Coming of Age

Manley came of age during this migratory transition. He seems to have kept extremely detailed notes of his life in those years. You would be hard pressed to find a more thorough reminiscence of a Montana upbringing than this book. It teems in descriptive detail of what life was like in those years as seen (and felt) by a child transitioning to teenager.

Much of what Manley reflects on are experiences most readers will relate to. Take, for example, this moving memory he shares of being 9 years old and spending time with his grandfather:

“As I stayed longer that summer at my grandparents’ house, and as I heard the stories, I began to believe that Grandfather was thinking of his youth and young manhood. Perhaps he was thinking of this family that annoyed and delighted him in turn. This place was, maybe, his own, sunny, sage-scented vale with the small creek rushing along its cobbled bed and the old buildings perched on the hillsides and the evergreen trees crowding down and the dusty smell.”

Vivid Recollections of Montana

The book contains many such vivid recollections, described in such compelling detail. Manley succeeds in making the reader understand both his own life and the experience of Montana in these years. Part of the success depends on Manley’s refusal to approach himself and his biography with the overwrought self-importance that marks so many memoirs of the West.

He pokes fun of himself and his strange, but commonplace, family at every turn, as willing to catalogue his most embarrassing moments as he is his personal triumphs in love and letters.

Manley envisioned himself as a poet at a young age, noting in his characteristic style. For example, he has a realization on the kindergarten playground “that all really good poetry contained at least one brief allusion to the Isle of Nantucket—or a male inhabitant thereof—or, perhaps to some of the more obscure tenets of Confucianism.”

Readers will be grateful that, in spite of an intervening career in law and raising a family of his own, Manley returned to his roots and writing talent to deliver this singular biography to Montana letters.

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