The Whistling Season / Ivan Doig

The voice of this novel is Paul Milliron, a native of Montana who has risen from a humble beginning to become its state superintendent of education. The year is 1957 and political pressure is calling for him to consolidate the state’s one-room schools. This is a personal matter with Paul as he received his education in a one-room school in the rural community of Marias Coulee. He knows, better than most, that such schools are the lifeblood of their remote communities. Confronted with this issue, his memory is swept back to 1910, a year when his school acquired a new teacher and Halley’s comet passed overhead. Both events were to play a big role in his life and that of his family. Thirteen years old at the time, Paul is living on his father’s farm with an older brother and a younger one. Their mother had died a short while before, leaving their grieving father to raise his sons alone, while working full-time as a farmer. In the Fall of 1909, Oliver, his father, decides he needs help dealing with house chores and assisting in his parenting duties. In the want ads of the Westwater Gazette, he comes across an ad from a woman in Minneapolis seeking a housekeeping position and is intrigued by its opening line, “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” Negotiations follow, and a short time later Rose Llywellyn and her brother, Morris Morgan, step off the train in Marias Coulee and into their lives. The story of the next year makes up the bulk of this novel. With the arrival of Rose and Morris, life on the family farm and in the community’s one-room school is forever changed. This novel has an old-fashioned feel to it, and I mean that as a compliment. Doig’s vivid prose truthfully captures the perspective of events as seen through an adolescent’s eyes, and brings to life the time period and the splendor of Montana’s landscape. Portraying everyday life, Doig is a master of teasing out the secrets beneath its surface. I found myself completely drawn into the lives of the story’s likable characters and charmed by the tale that unfolds. For the discriminating reader, this novel, from beginning to end, will prove to be a true delight.


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