Why we go to high School reunions and how a writer vaulted to fame 

High school reunion—the words pierce like daggers. At first it sounds like a good idea: We’ll all sit around, talking ‘bout the old times, just like a John Cougar Mellencamp song—and then the grousy voice of the invisible superjudge comes creeping in: Shouldn’t you be rich and famous by now? You’re not getting any younger, are you? And just look at how you’ve let those thighs go to hell!

One of our Indy staffers attended his 10-year reunion this past summer. “Balding jocks and fat cheerleaders,” were his exact words when queried beforehand about what he expected from the event. His post-event report—minus the part about his high school sweetheart mystifyingly not waiting 10 years for his triumphant return to backseat lovemaking—was actually quite favorable. “My mom asked me if I ran into any old friends,” he said, “And I told her it felt like we were all old friends. Even those guys who gave me the swirly that one time.”

On a more scientific note: Christiane von Reichert, an associate professor of geography at the University of Montana, will discuss the results of her rather extraordinary research project in this same field, in a lecture titled “High School Reunions: Why Montanans Come Home.” Von Reichert has spent the past two summers partaking of potato salad and beanie weenies at 18 reunions across the state, interviewing some 300 Treasure State high school alumni who had earlier left Montana as to why they came back.

The professor will discuss the results of her research Thursday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Carroll O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West (in the old Milwaukee Station).

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And finally, the boosters in our Brush With Greatness Department want you to know that new novelist and lapsed Montanan Patricia Henley has officially been put in the running for the National Book Award, one of America’s highest literary prizes. She was tapped as a finalist last month for her novel, Hummingbird House—a piquant and nearly pitch-perfect tale of a midwife’s journey through Central America and mid-life—which the Independent reviewed in its Summer Reading issue.

Since appearing in our pages, Henley has obviously grabbed a number of other pundits by the collar, too. Her book is the only contender for the National Book Award that was published by a small, independent house—Denver’s stalwart MacMurray & Beck—and besides, it’s Henley’s first full-length work of fiction, which makes her nomination pretty much like buying your first pair of Nikes and then ending up at the final Olympic trials.

The winner of the National Book Award will be announced Nov. 17 in New York City. In the meantime, you can take this chance to see what all the fuss is about: Hummingbird House is available at your local independent bookseller for $22. And while you’re there, check out the book that started it all, Friday Night at Silver Star, Henley’s debut collection of short stories, which won her the Montana First Book Award in 1985.

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