Montana is truly Big Sky Country. With its globe-spanning horizons and skyscraper cloud formations, the state has attracted its share of writers who try to capture its peak-and-plain landscape and salt-of-the-earth citizens. Ivan Doig, Rick Bass, William Kittredge and Thomas McGuane are just a few of the best contemporary Montana authors. But perched at the top of my list is Richard Ford. His short story collection Rock Springs was not just great literature, it was also "great Montana." Ford, who admits in interviews that he's had more forwarding addresses than a rent-dodger, divides his time between homes in Montana, Louisiana and Mississippi. But it's the Big Sky Country and its people that have really stuck with him. His best writing takes place in the Hi-Line railroad yards, the Great Falls bars and the battered trailer parks. Ford has been raised on the shoulders of the literary community and cheered for his novels The Sportswriter and Independence Day. While I thought they were good works, I didn't think they were great. When Ford turns his pen to Montana, however, he is beyond great. Nowhere is that more evident than in the slim but powerful novel Wildlife, published in 1990. Set in the autumn of 1960, Wildlife is narrated by 16-year-old Joe Brinson who confronts his parents' frailties when his father loses his job and takes off to fight forest fires near the Canadian border. His mother, meanwhile, begins an affair with an older man. This not-so-simple love triangle plays out against a background of impending forest fires and brewing human jealousy. It's all filtered through Joe's perspective from that netherworld of neither child nor adult. The narrative beautifully captures the melancholy and pain of the spectacles he observes-grown-ups who behave like children and children who are forced to act like adults. There is not a single false note in Wildlife. Character, plot and dialogue converge into the finest example of Ford's writing to date. This is one of the few novels (John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is another) that I wanted to re-read the minute I finished it. Ford knows how to condense whole books of emotion and thought into the smallest of spaces. Here, for instance, is the very first paragraph of Wildlife: "In the fall of 1960, when I was sixteen and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him. This was in Great Falls, Montana, at the time of the Gypsy Basin oil boom, and my father had brought us there in the spring of that year from Lewiston, Idaho, in the belief that people-small people like him-were making money in Montana or soon would be, and he wanted a piece of that good luck before all of it collapsed and was gone in the wind." Ford's stories are filled with "small people" chasing after "pieces of luck" and it's that very quality of his writing that draws me to him, time after time. I know these luck-seeking characters because I'm one of them. Like his good friend Raymond Carver, Ford writes gripping, truthful stories of the Everyman in America. He's at his best, however, when he's inside the borders of Montana.