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Goodbye Wifes and Daughters tells an archetypical story, one that Montanans know all too well. Some men cut corners to maximize profit; others willingly work in dangerous places to support their families, and many men die. It might have been hard rock miners in Butte or asbestos processors in Libby, but Susan Kushner Resnick chose to tell the story of coal miners in Bear Creek, Montana.

On the morning of February 27, 1943, an explosion ripped through Smith Mine #3 killing 75 men  that day and the town of Bear Creek over the next decade. Resnick puts the story in context. She tells how the pressures of World War II make men feel it’s their patriotic duty face danger to keep up production. How owners exploit that patriotism to maximize profit. How methane builds and sparks ignite it.

All that is important. But the power of the book lies in Resnick’s recreation of the life in a small town. Resnick has researched deeply and she uses the details she dug up to bring the people to life. She tells us not just that the the town took pride in its high school basketball team, she tells us how many points to the top scorer made, and who sat on the bench, and where they went with their girlfriends after the game. Such exquisite detail brings the people—both those who died and those who survived—to life.

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— To find out more about my work with the Montana Book Award look under the “Categories Button” on the right.

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