From one of the greatest novelists of the American West comes a surprising and riveting story set in Montana and New York during the Harlem Renaissance, drawing together an unlikely set of thwarted performers in one last inspired grasp at life's set of gold rings: love and renown.
Susan Duff -- the bossy, indomitable schoolgirl with a silver voice from the pages of Doig's most popular work, Dancing at the Rascal Fair -- has reached middle age alone, teaching voice lessons to the progeny of Helena's high society. Wesley Williamson -- business scion of a cattle-empire family -- has fallen from the heights of gubernatorial aspirations, forced out of a public career by political foes who uncovered his love affair with Susan. Years later, Susan is taken off guard when Wes arrives at her door with an unusual request: to train his chauffeur, Monty, in the ways of voice and performance.
Prairie Nocturne is the saga of these three people and their interlocked destinies. Monty is distantly known to Susan from their childhoods in the Two Medicine country, yet an enforced stranger because of the racial divide. When she realizes he possesses a singing voice of rare splendor, Susan joins Wes's Pygmalion-like project to launch Monty on a performing career -- only to find the full force of the Ku Klux Klan in their way. As Monty and Susan overcome treacherous obstacles, Wes's mysterious motives unsettle everyone, including himself, and the trio's crossed fates form a deeply longitudinal novel that raises everlasting questions of allegiance, the grip of the past, and the costs of career and passion.
In his rambling, sluggishly paced seventh novel, noted western novelist Doig explores the discord that racism sows in the Montana wilderness during the Roaring 20s. Susan Duff, the schoolgirl nightingale from his Montana trilogy's middle book, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, is now in her 40thyear, unmarried, working in Helena giving singing lessons to the upper crust. Her former adulterous lover, the charismatic WWI hero and once gubernatorial hopeful Wes Williamson, reappears and persuades Susan to abandon her other students in order to develop the untrained voice of his African-American chauffeur, Monty Rathbun, with an eye to putting him on the professional stage. Because Monty is black, Susan moves the lessons to the seclusion of her family ranch in mountainous Two Medicine country. But overnight prosperity from oil and copper has brought motorcars and telephones, so secrets are not easily kept. Soon, the KKK makes its presence felt, and Susan's home is vandalized. Though Wes quickly routs the bigots, Monty flees, resurfacing in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, where he attains overnight celebrity as a singer of spirituals. Of course, for black men and adulterous lovers in the 1920s, the course of fame and secret passion is still fraught with peril, and more trouble lies in wait for all. The fine plot is disrupted by frequent flashbacks, paeans to unspoiled landscape, Scottish genealogy and western lore, but those who don't mind digressive storytelling will appreciate yet another Montana saga from one of the state's best-known chroniclers. 11-city author tour.