11 July 2011

Doing my Doig

Ivan Doig is one of those names I see tossed around in the world of Literature. Well-known authors review his books.

On the Ivan Doig Literature Map, there are no names really close to his. That, to me, indicates that Doig's work is ideosyncratic. But some people whose books I've liked are not far away: Dan O'Brien, Norman Maclean, Leif Enger, Alexander Mccall Smith, and Kathleen Norris. On the fringes of the map are names like Willa Cather, Rita Mae Brown, C. J. Box, and Louise Edrich, whose books I have mostly liked. But there are also names like Danielle Steel. Danielle Steele?

Yes. I liked the first couple of Doig's books I read. I should have stopped after the first couple. I'd have better memories.

I'm more convinced than ever that these books are script outlines for television soap operas (if there are any still around). The little scenes he describes as his way of telling stories could easily be 4-minute televison scenes. And the way in which the scenes follow characters instead of timelines fits with what I've seen of soap operas as I've surfed channels. And the extended timelines (e.g. slow progression of story telling) also fits with my image of those daytime sagas.

Well, I've now done my Doig. I picked up Bucking the Sun at the Hospital Auxiliary book sale. It'll be the last of his books that I'll pick up.

This one centers on the extended Duff family, immigrants to Montana from Scotland. They get displaced or recruited to help build the Fort Peck Dam in Montana.

Dredging to build the Fort Peck dam.

Most of the Duff family were hired hands on the project and lived in one of the boom towns around the dam. Doig romanticized those towns and the people who survived there. Not everyone shared those views.

Dr. C.C. Lull, a doctor in the boom town of Wheeler, described the place and its people this way:
The natural result of this desire for recreation and entertainment when not on shift of work was that these places became a fertile field for the professional gambler and those of questionable reputation, both male and female, who live off the 'sap' and his hard-earned money. Bootlegging became rampant and a 'red-light' district was established.

There were gamblers, bootleggers, women of questionable income, and the men who associate with them. Professional dancers, grafters, robbers and morphine addicts and not a few wanted by the law sought refuge in this area. As time passed, the better and more substantial citizens became acquainted with each other, casting the influences against these undesirables, and made it too hot for them to remain any longer to plunder on the strange public without detection.

Lull doesn't mention that the workers were also begin recruited by the IWW other union organizers. Proletarian politics at its best and worst.

Bucking the Sun is light on plot and big on characters. It's evidently big on symbolism, too, but most of that missed me. The reading group guide that was at the back of the edition I read was full of questions about the difference between fiction and nonfiction, the purpose of "back stories," and the causes of the betrayals in the story. Okay, not my kind of questions. Well, except for the one about fiction/nonfiction. I did go looking to find out if one of the big events late in the book actually happened. (It did.)

I'm as tired of the stories Doig has told as I am with the dry, high praries of eastern Montana. I know, those praries might be one of the reasons I enjoy the mountains just to the west, but I cannot think of what the romances of 20th century east slope Montana will help me enjoy more.

Agree? Disagree? Write and tell this little bit of the world why.

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