25 November 2008

Ride around Montana

When I got tired of trying to slog through Marisha Pessl's novel, I went to the Northrfield Public Library looking for another book by Ivan Doig.

I'd read Mountain Time and The Whistling Season awhile back and liked them a lot. The book I found was Ride with Me, Mariah Montana.

The novel is the third of a trilogy about the history of Montana. It was published during Montana's centennial of statehood.

The story features a retired, second-generation sheep rancher, his photographer daughter (who was also a character in Mountain Time), and her ex-husband journalist. The three of them set off in a Winnebago RV on a journey around Montana to produce a series of state centennial feature articles for a Missoula newspaper.

That description makes it sound like a collection of those articles. And it is, in small part. It's a sentimental journey by a loving and loyal native son (Doig).

What sets it apart from that kind of parochial writing are the characters created by Doig and the fact that they're awake, self-aware, and open to growth -- even, or especially, the recently-widowed old sheep rancher.

There are personal histories as well as historical episodes from Montana in the book, and they interact in unexpected ways. There are flashbacks and surprises; uncertain relationships and change. There's even a flat tire. Oh, and a posse of retired guys who deliver cars across the state for dealers who need to shift inventory.

Ride with Me, Mariah Montana is not as good as either of the early books by Doig that I read. But it's head and shoulders better than most of the mysteries I usually read. Except for most of Hilleman's (whose recent death probably means I'll begin a re-reading project).

And, what, you may well ask, do I mean by better? Well, the people are interesting and realistic and complex and self-contradictory and likable. There's a well-told story that proceeds at its own pace, but never falters. There's reflection and self-awareness on the part of the characters and the author, which provokes those things in me.

I'll be going back for another of Doig's books soon.

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