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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gray Matter: A book review

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

(Photo)
How about it? We seem to be getting rather "literary" here, of late -- last week a cautionary tale, this week a book review! Who's to say what's coming next? 

But before I go further, I do want to pay a belated tribute to The Bookseller. I am well aware of the wise old adage that "Nothing is forever," but somehow, I kept expecting that delightful store to be the exception. It was such an asset to the entire area, something that left us all feeling as though we lived in a place that was "just a cut above." 

Thank you, Donna and Dennis Henrich, for the loving effort you put into that very special shop that meant so much to so many!

But on to my "book review" -- Among the authors I enjoy, and they are numerous and varied, is Ivan Doig. He was first introduced to me by my Montana family. Early on, he was considered just a regional writer. Recently, though, a prominent reviewer called him "the reigning master of new Western literature," ranking him above such famous writers as Wallace Stegner and A.B. Guthrie. His novels, "Dancing at the Rascal Fair," "Ride with Me, Mariah Montana," and "Bucking the Sun," as well as the nonfiction, "This House of Sky," already had me convinced.

Now I want to tell you of his latest novel, "The Whistling Season." It is set in turn-of-the-century Montana when the last of the big homesteading efforts was taking place. It's the turn of the 20th Century, of which we're speaking, of course. The particular magnet to Marias Coulee was a gargantuan irrigation project, the Big Ditch, which was supposed to make the vast prairie lands bloom.

The story is told in first person by Paul, oldest of Oliver Milliron's three sons. The Millirons, having come as a happy family, had been devastated when Florence, the wife and mother, died as the result of a burst appendix. They had carried on, valiantly but haphazardly.

In time, an intriguing newspaper ad attracts the widower's attention.  Beginning "Can't cook but doesn't bite," the ad offers the services of  an "A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, excellent disposition." After a family council, Oliver, with son Paul's help, answers the ad.

In due time Rose Llewellyn arrives by train from Minneapolis, accompanied by her eccentric brother, Morris Morgan.  The story goes on from there. It takes a particularly interesting turn when the local school teacher elopes with an itinerant preacher, and Morgan is conscripted to fill the vacancy.

Doig writes with an unusual style that keeps you on your toes, but it is worth the effort. In fact, I found it to be one of those books that left me absolutely torn. I could scarcely bear to put it down, but still I felt compelled to parcel it out so it would last as long as possible. 

I advise you to go to your local library, or (up till the closing of The Bookseller I would never have said this) log on to Barnes and Noble and order a copy. Then shut down the computer, ignore the TV and settle back in your favorite chair for a real treat. I'm convinced you'll be glad you did.