23 January 2009

Another Montana story

I liked reading a couple earlier books by Ivan Doig, so when I visited the Northfield public library, I picked up another of his books, Prairie Nocturne.

Prairie Nocturne is the story of three people connected to Montana in the 1920s. One of them is Black cowboy, son of a post-Civil War US Cavalry sergeant. One is a woman who abandoned her nascent career as a professional singer to return to family in Montana. The third is a scion of a very successful ranching family in Montana.

The rancher sends his employee with an impressive, untrained singing voice to the rancher's mistress for voice training. His motive seems to be a desire to see this cowboy make something more of himself. It also offers opportunities for him to see the voice teacher -- although the rancher's family is firmly ensconced in New York society and never spends time in Montana.

Interesting characters, but I never felt they were complete. Interesting story for most of the book, but not much more. Those things probably account for my surprise at the ending. There weren't enough hints for me to suspect what was coming.

I think that Doig also assumed that his readers were more familiar with early 20th century Montana than I am. But I doubt that many non-Montanans are. Nor are many Montanans. That limits the audience who can really understand the book.

The authors most read by Doig's readers (according to the Literature Map below) are Gretel Erlich, Clyde Edgerton, and Annie Proux. I've never read anything by any of them. And I don't know whether this is a recommendation of them or Doig.

Has someone else read any of Doig's books? Your thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prairie Nocturne is not Doig's best. His characters are always interesting, but this story did not catch my interest.
My book group just finished "Whistling Season", and we loved it. The characters were well drawn, and Doig's language, and his characters' language, are always a delight, and often poetically descriptive.
I don't know how much you need to know about life in Montana to read his stories--seems to me that his writing gives the background you need. He has a loosely related series of novels whose characters, time frame, and locations overlap. Those stories can all be read independently, and were of the same quality as "Whistling Season".
I was turned on to his writing when I saw the title "This House of Sky". I picked it up based on the title and was captivated--it was an autobiography of his youth.

I have been reading his fiction and non-fiction ever since.

As for the literature map, I have not found any authors close to him on the map that I enjoy near as much. He seems to be in a category by himself. I'll be interested to hear if other readers can point me to equally gifted authors.