Can't cook but doesn't bite." So begins the newspaper ad offering the services of an "A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, exceptional disposition" that draws the hungry attention of widower Oliver Milliron in the fall of 1909. And so begins the unforgettable season that deposits the noncooking, nonbiting, ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee along with a stampede of homesteaders drawn by the promise of the Big Ditch-a gargantuan irrigation project intended to make the Montana prairie bloom. When the schoolmarm runs off with an itinerant preacher, Morris is pressed into service, setting the stage for the "several kinds of education"-none of them of the textbook variety-Morris and Rose will bring to Oliver, his three sons, and the rambunctious students in the region's one-room schoolhouse. A paean to a vanished way of life and the eccentric individuals and idiosyncratic institutions that made it fertile, The Whistling Season is Ivan Doig at his evocative best.
Reviewed by Rick BassAny writer's work should be judged solely on its own merits, yet in this fine novel by Ivan Doig, one may be forgiven for marveling at the creation of such a work at an advanced stage of this writer's illustrious career. (Wallace Stegner to whom, as with Doig, landscape was character and event in any story, and particularly Western landscapes comes to mind with his classic Crossing to Safety.)Like many of Doig's earlier novels, The Whistling Season is set in the past in rural eastern Montana and addresses that time and place in distinct, uncluttered prose that carries the full enthusiasm of affection and even love for the landscape, the characters, and the events of the story without being sentimental or elegiac. The novel is narrated by an aging Montana state superintendent of schools, Paul Milliron, who is charged with deciding the fate of the state's last scattered rural schools, and who, in the hours preceding his meeting to determine those schools' fate, recalls the autumn of 1909, when he was 13 and attending his own one-room school in Marias Coulee.Recently widowed, Paul's father, overwhelmed by the child-rearing duties presented by his three sons, in addition to his challenging farming duties, hires a housekeeper, sight unseen, from a newspaper ad. The housekeeper, Rose, proclaims that she "can't cook but doesn't bite." She turns out to be a beguiling character, and she brings with her a surprise guest her brother, the scholarly Morris, who, though one of the most bookish characters in recent times, also carries brass knuckles and not to give away too much plot somehow knows how to use them.The schoolteacher in Marias Coulee runs away to get married, leaving Morris to step up and take over her job. The verve and inspiration that he, an utter novice to the West, to children and to teaching children, brings to the task is told brilliantly and passionately, and is the core of the book's narrative, with its themes of all the different ways of knowing and learning, at any age.Doig's strengths in this novel are character and language the latter manifesting itself at a level of old-fashioned high-octane grandeur not seen previously in Doig's novels, and few others': the sheer joy of word choices, phrases, sentences, situations, and character bubbling up and out, as fecund and nurturing as the dryland farmscape the story inhabits is sere and arid. The Whistling Season is a book to pass on to your favorite readers: a story of lives of active choice, lived actively. Rick Bass is the Pushcart and O. Henry award-winning author of more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books. His second novel, The Diezmo, will be published in June.
Customer ReviewsSee All
The Whistling Season
Despite the many, many typographical misspellings in this print, the book was very enjoyable. However, the typos were very distracting, sometimes enough to distract from the flow of the reading. I often had to stop and think about the words that were meant to be there as opposed to the typos that were misprints. if these misprints are corrected, the book would be delightful indeed. I would rate this a 5, if not for these mistakes.
He forgot to put In a plot
While Ivan Doig does an absolutely phenomenal job in his writing. Providing readers with beautiful descriptions of Montana in 1910. The story drags. It drags for the entire duration of the novel until the last 2 chapter. These last 2 chapters are however so intense and interesting that they are the only reason I've given it a score of 2 stars rather than 1. If you are seeking to read a book during your leisure time then I highly suggest partaking in another novel.
The whistling season
This lovely book is seriously marred by the lack of editing (at least in the iBook version). A spell checker would fix most of the problems. This is unforgivable.