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Time and again, Ivan Doig has proven himself to be a treasure of American letters. Critical darlings and New York Times best sellers, his novels target the heart of the human experience and never miss the mark.
The Bartender' s Tale stars Tom Harry and his 12-year-old son, Rusty, who live alone and run a bar in a small Montana town in the early 1960s. Their lives are upended when Proxy, a woman from Tom's past, and her beatnik daughter, Francine, breeze into town. Is Francine, as Proxy claims, the unsuspected legacy of her and Tom’s past? Without a doubt she is an unsettling gust of the future, upending every certainty in Rusty’s life and generating a mist of passion and pretense that seems to obscure everyone’s vision but his own.
As Rusty struggles to decipher the oddities of adult behavior and the mysteries build toward a reckoning, Ivan Doig wonderfully captures how the world becomes bigger and the past becomes more complex in the last moments of childhood.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mark on 04-07-13
a sweet, old fashioned coming-of-age story
Most of this story happens in the summer of 1960. Tom Harry is a bartender in rural Montana, and lives with his son, Rusty. Rusty is twelve years old, and loves his life with his single father, living above their bar. During that summer, twelve year-old Zoe moves to town and befriends Rusty. Twenty-something Delano also moves to town working on an Americana oral history project and connects with Rusty and his father. This is a sweet, slow-moving story, much like life in that small town at that time. I enjoyed being part of that time and seeing the world from Rusty's innocent eyes. The reader was great, with distinctive voices for all the main characters. I really enjoyed listening to this story, and rate the story as a 4+. My only criticisms - it felt a bit similar to other rural coming-of-age stories, and lacked any sharp edges to take it out of that comfortable idyllic world. That said, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. One more comment - the book promo talks about Proxy and his daughter coming into the lives of Tom and Rusty. I was waiting for that to happen, thinking it would be central to this story. It does not occur until the book is 3/4 over. Rusty's relationship to his father and his bar, and his friendship with Zoe are much more central to this book.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By B.J. on 03-08-13
If you love a good story ...
this is your book. Ivan Doig has been called "The New Wallace Stegner" for a long time. I love Wallace Stegner, so I take that comparison seriously. There have always been similar threads, but never has the quality of the writing been as close to - or better than Stegner's - than in this book.
Doig has a way of writing about small events and everyday people that makes even an annual fishing event sound interesting. (Perfect example is a "bit" he wrote about looking for ticks. I never would have guessed there was a story in that. There is when it's in Doig's hands and it's funny.) I also think there's an element of autobiography in this one with Rusty, the young narrator.
I love the crisp writing, the use of local jargon - as he calls it "lingua America" - and the bits of history woven in for good measure. I love the 87 ways he can allude to sex without ever getting into the nitty gritty of it. But I especially love his characters - so real you can almost reach out and touch them.
There's a special feeling you get with certain books. The characters come and live at your house while you're listening. Rusty and his dad have been at my house the last few days and I miss them terribly now that they're gone. Very few books measure up to this in terms of pure, good writing. It's such a joy.
21 of 22 people found this review helpful