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With the passing some years ago of Wallace Stegner, Ivan Doig is probably the writer who now most personifies the West. English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride with me Mariah Montana are among my favorites. It was with great enthusiasm that I began to read his latest, The Whistling Season. It was for that reason, perhaps, that I was initially disappointed. It had the tone of a juvenile book, at first. There's nothing wrong with that—I write juvenile fiction myself. But this seemed just a note off from where it belonged.
True, the book is about a juvenile, through his reminiscence 50 years hence. There was something that did not ring true. I don't know if I got over it, or if the book improved. More likely I was picking something up in the narration that wasn't just right.
Ultimately, the book is not a disappointment, though not his best work. Early on you could see the happy ending rolling toward you like a train in the distance: recently widowed farmer with three boys sends for a housekeeper on the basis of a cryptic ad. Surprise, surprise, she's quite good looking. The real surprise is that she brings her brother with her. He turns out to be much more than we expect, and in many ways is the center of the book.
Much of the novel takes place in a one-room Montana schoolhouse, beginning in 1909. There are several sub-plots that provide the action. The real story is about the kind of education one could get in that kind of setting. A couple of years ago I was privileged to have the opportunity to edit the history of a similar school in Idaho. That kind of grade-spanning education, all but lost today, had much to recommend it.
There is some entertaining wordplay throughout the novel. We come dangerously close to learning a little Latin. In the end, the entire book turns on the definition of a word. A bold step that a lesser writer might not have pulled off. Doig does it with ease.
39 of 39 people found this review helpful
Five big shining stars! This is the book for long trips alone. For that matter, it is the book for lots of short trips as well. A lovely story that is beautifully written and perfectly narrated. I found myself thinking about Oliver and the children, Rose and Maury throughout my day. These are characters that will stay with you long after the book is finished. Mr. Doig's description of Montana in the early 1900's is fascinating. This is a "slice of life" story with caring, honest people and real relationships. Take the long way home, look forward to traffic back ups and enjoy this one! I look forward to more writing by Ivan Doig, and will search for narration by Jonathan Hogan. What a perfect pair.
30 of 30 people found this review helpful