Named a Best Book of the Year by the Seattle Times and Kirkus Review
The final novel from a great American storyteller.
Donal Cameron is being raised by his grandmother, the cook at the legendary Double W ranch in Ivan Doig’s beloved Two Medicine Country of the Montana Rockies, a landscape that gives full rein to an eleven-year-old’s imagination. But when Gram has to have surgery for “female trouble” in the summer of 1951, all she can think to do is to ship Donal off to her sister in faraway Manitowoc, Wisconsin. There Donal is in for a rude surprise: Aunt Kate–bossy, opinionated, argumentative, and tyrannical—is nothing like her sister. She henpecks her good-natured husband, Herman the German, and Donal can’t seem to get on her good side either. After one contretemps too many, Kate packs him back to the authorities in Montana on the next Greyhound. But as it turns out, Donal isn’t traveling solo: Herman the German has decided to fly the coop with him. In the immortal American tradition, the pair light out for the territory together, meeting a classic Doigian ensemble of characters and having rollicking misadventures along the way.
Charming, wise, and slyly funny, Last Bus to Wisdom is a last sweet gift from a writer whose books have bestowed untold pleasure on countless readers.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
An epic road trip becomes a journey of self-discovery in Ivan Doig’s thoughtful final novel. Set in 1951, the story follows Donal, a full-of-beans kid from the Rocky Mountains who’s sent away to live with relatives, eventually winding up with his beleaguered uncle, Herman, in Montana. The unlikely pair embark on an intergenerational road trip that would make a killer buddy movie, traveling from the camps of itinerant men who ride the rails to the majesty of Yellowstone National Park. Published after Doig’s death in 2015, the novel draws on the author’s own Montana youth to deliver a fun, heartfelt tale peppered with old-school Western slang. (Donal’s isolated hometown is described as a place where “you had to take a bus to catch the bus.”) A modern classic with old-fashioned charm, Last Bus to Wisdom is sure to make you laugh, but it’ll tug on your heartstrings too.
The pleasures of reading Doig's final novel (he died in April 2015) are bittersweet. His familiar themes are here: love for his native Montana, and his astute observation of and admiration for the tough homesteaders and ranchers who eke out a hardscrabble living. The Double W ranch is once again a backdrop, but much of the action takes place in other western locations, as 11-year-old narrator Donal Cameron (a thinly disguised, youthful Doig) travels to Manitouwoc, Wisc., to stay with a distant relative while his grandmother (who is his guardian; Donal is an orphan) undergoes surgery. Donal is an independent kid, but he's also an adolescent with anxieties and an overactive imagination, propelling him headlong into scrapes. What was to be a simple trip morphs into a picaresque odyssey in which Donal goes on the lam with a man called Herman the German, who has secrets he must hide. Funny, suspenseful, and nostalgic, this is a rollicking tale set during the summer of 1951 as a "dog bus" (aka Greyhound) transports the duo to the legendary Crow Fair ("the tribal heart of the Indian world"), Yellowstone, Butte, and places in between. En route, Donal encounters con artists and scalawags who cheat and steal, and benevolent people hobos and others who offer hope and shelter. Characters introduced early on turn up again later, and when time Donal and Herman squeeze onto the derelict last bus to the town of Wisdom, Mont., where they will work harvesting hay, their travails lead to a happy ending. Though this book lacks the deeper resonance of Doig's previous novels, such as Dancing at the Rascal Fair and his classic nonfiction memoir, This House of Sky, it's nonetheless a heartwarming, memorable story.
Love all of Ivan’s books!
The Last Bus to Wisdom
I loved this book. The characters were well developed but left me wanting to know more about each one. The trips on the “Dog Bus” were fun as our main protagonist tried to get people o write in his autograph book.
Enjoyed the journey immensely!
Love Ivan Doug books and this one has places that are out right funny. But the travel through this child’s life is a delight.