(By the way, one of those bookstores, the Book Peddler, a book store and coffee bar, is for sale.)
The book I bought was The Whistling Season. Like Mountain Time, The Whistling Season is character driven. There are only two or three real events in the story and they won't take your breath away.
But the people, from narrator Paul Milliron, to whistling Rose Llewellyn, to University of Chicago-trained teacher Morris Morgan, all residents of Marias Coulee, Montana in 1910, are fascinating.
The narrator is recalling his 6th grade year from the vantage of 1957, mostly in the first person. But everyone gets speaking roles in this story. (Unlike the narration in Disobedience which is monopolized by 17-year-old Henry.)
Since everyone is on stage and not just a shadow puppet in another's memory, I was interested in all of them. I found young Damon's scrapbooking interesting. I found younger Tobey's twitchy excitement about nearly everything interesting. I found the aura of mystery around Morris Morgan and his sister Rose interesting. Heck, I even thought learning a bit about dry land farming in early 20th century Montana interesting. (But luckily, Doig doesn't go on too much about that.)
There's even an interesting connection between the mid-20th century and the setting of most of the story. Narrator Paul, now superintendent of schools for Montana is reflecting, in part, on his experience in the one-room school in Marias Coulee while trying to figure out how to carry out a legislative mandate to close Montana's remaining one-room schools in the face of the threat represented in '57 by Sputnik.
There's a bit of a soap opera as well about how Oliver and his sons, Paul, Damon, and Tobey, make their way in the world after the death of Mrs. Milliron. There's a bit of a romance story here too between the housekeeper, widow Rose Llewellyn and the widower Oliver Milliron. There's a bit of a mystery about how the dapper Morris Morgan ended up cutting wood, cleaning chicken coops, and teaching school among homesteaders on the Montana frontier. And there's a wonderful escape into a century-old world where Halley's comet could still be brilliant enough to cause awe and consternation. (In 1986, I was very disappointed by Halley's appearance. Then again, I never made a great effort to get away from the lights of civilization to look.)
If you want an antidote to the cliched cowboy-dominated image of the western frontier in America, this is the book for you.
I really liked this book. I recommend it highly. I'm headed back to the Northfield library to see which other Ivan Doig books they have on the shelves.
If you've read a book or two by Doig, please let us know what you think.
- The publisher's page for The Whistling Season
- Jennifer McCord's review from Book Reporter
- Sven Birkerts' review in the New York Times