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.
The Whistling Season will provoke nostalgia in many readers – for family and community, for the carefree days of childhood, for simpler times that exist only in memory. However, this is much more than a sentimental, “feel good” book. Doig is a master story teller – dramatic without being melodramatic, and very witty. No detail is unimportant, yet the details don't weigh the story down. If readers haven't already identified with Paul, they'll be hooked by his description of his part of a shared bedroom: My books already threatened to take over my part of the room and keep on going. Mother's old ones, subscription sets Father had not been able to resist, coverless winnowings from the schoolhouse shelf—whatever cargoes of words I could lay my hands on I gave safe harbor. I think book lovers everywhere will recognize that room! Highly recommended.
And so begins this utterly delightful, gently humorous, very old-fashioned kind of book. Written in first person, our narrator, Paul, takes us back to the Fall of 1909 when he was twelve and
This is my first book by Doig and it certainly won't be my last. His writing is poetic as he captures the time and sense of place beautifully. The characters are well drawn, they feel almost like people you know and with whom you'd want to sit a spell. I'm looking forward to revisiting Morrie in Work Song. Recommended especially for fans of Kent Haruf, Leif Enger, and, although I haven't read her, I suspect, Laura Ingles Wilder. I would also recommend for patient middle to high school readers who will easily relate to the story.
This is the type of story that I generally like. I enjoy getting a sense of another place and time through fiction. But this story shines because Paul provides an amazingly insightful window on the world. Doig does an excellent job of capturing the voice of this precocious 13-year-old. While the events that unfold are at times suspenseful, this is not a plot driven story. Rather, everytime I opened the book, I felt as though I was getting to spend some time in this place and time that are so different from my own, with people who I loved. I hated to see the book end. I spent some time trying to come up with other characters in literature who remind me of Paul, and I can't come up with a comparison. But I did find myself thinking that Oliver reminded me a bit of Atticus Finch. And that is high praise indeed.
This will be on my list of best books of the year. I can't wait to read more by Doig.
The year that Paul is 12, his father sees an advertisement for a housekeeper who can't cook but doesn't bite. He hires Rose Llewellyn to come tend to the house and his boys, who have been missing a woman's care ever since their mother died. The advent of Rose and her dapper and very erudite brother Morrie in the Milliron home, and indeed this dry land farming community, turns out to be of momentous import. Morrie assumes the schoolteacher's position in the tiny schoolhouse that serves the surrounding farms, engaging and challenging the children far beyond anything ever expected of them before.
The characters in the story are complex and interesting and their actions, even when they are surprising, remain true to their cores. They are no-frills, reflective of the landscape in which they live. The slow unfolding of the story of that pivotal year is carefully measured and only occasionally interrupted by the older Paul's thoughts on his upcoming and unlooked for meeting to close the school that served him so well in his youth and offered him so much the year that Morrie and Rose moved to Marais Coulee. Doig's skill in painting place and atmosphere shines throughout the novel as does his rending of tensions and loyaties in this place still being settled. The unembellished writing makes the story accessible and unsentimental. But unembellished doesn't mean that there are not many riches here. The depiction of family, knowledge, and learning is plain and true and real. And while it took a little effort to get into the rhythm of the story at the beginning, I recommend perseverance. Doig has a given the reader a gift with this novel chronicling a time not so long past but certainly disappearing forever.
This is a touching family story
An interesting juxtaposition of perspectives of Paul at 13 and Paul in his later years is woven lightly throughout. Paul struggles and comes to terms with perspectives on adult relationships, temptations to compromise values in an effort to succeed in life, forgiveness, the value of a small town education and learning to live with others.
I wanted to see the comet. I wanted to race backwards on horseback. I wanted to talk and listen to Morrie. I wanted to have an early morning cocoa with Rose. In a way, I did all that. Doig is that good.
This gentle story is full of humor and warmth, with richly described characters and a strong sense of place. It evokes a longing for a less cynical time. Doig's simple writing style creates a place and characters that I came to care for.
"What is being asked, no, demanded of me is not only the forced extinction of the little schools. It will also slowly kill those rural neighborhoods, the ones that have struggled from homestead days on to adapt to dryland Montana in their farming and ranching. (The better to populate Billings and benefit its car dealers, I suppose.) No schoolhouse to send their children to. No schoolhouse for a Saturday-night dance. No schoolhouse for election day; for the Grange meeting; for the 4-H club; for the quilting bee; for the pinochle tournament; for the reading group; for any of the gatherings that are the bloodstream of the community."
I will hold onto this book, to read it again when I'm not so busy, and I will definitely read more by this author.
If you are of an age to remember the TV series, The Waltons, you'll understand what I mean when I say that this story played in my head like an episode of The Waltons. With just the merest hint of what is going on in his life in the story's 'now' (late 1950s), framing the story of what happened 'then', when he was about 13 (1910). It was spare living but a full life, lived with his father and brothers, and riding their horses to the one-room schoolhouse, same as the rest of the 'neighbors'. Arrow heads, buffalo bones, Halley's comet, irrigation projects, dryland farming, cooking, language and learning Latin, and dreaming are the stuff of Paul's youth.
Montana was real to me in this book. I may not have been in the saddle (thank you, says the horse), but I felt the dust and the frost. These people were real to me, too, especially the brothers. Their various personalities and temperaments were true to each throughout. Setting, characters and story – everything – was perfect.
Close the book for the last time, close your eyes, and you'll still hear the whistling – the wind, the woman and the swans. It is a harmony in the ears of my heart, the melody of a lost way of life, the song of one-room schoolhouses, of the young folks educated there, and the sturdy pioneers from which they descended.
I loved this book! (5 stars)
The story is
Paul is exceptionally intelligent, and the combination of his boyish innocence and nearly adult perceptiveness make him an unusual and effective narrator. The wistfulness of the man is already lurking the boy, and the joy of existence still lingers in the adult. I highly recommend The Whistling Season to anyone who enjoys beautiful but understated writing and great story-telling.
A school administrator in the 1950s, the age of Sputnik, tasked with shutting down rural
The story isn't strong on plot but the writing is beautiful and the characters are wonderful. One person was especially nasty, a trapper, and I hated reading the part about his hunting a wolf.
There are a few surprises along the way, but the strength of this story lies in its ability to submerge the reader in an entirely believable and real world and story.
This novel is the first book I've read by this author, but I am going to be sure to read more.
Doig knows this territory well—it is his own ancestral roots. He has researched it thoroughly and published other successful fiction and nonfiction books set in this period and place. While reading this book, I felt transported back in time—the landscape, the people, the very dust that covered everything—came alive on the page. So do the characters—the singular, bizarre, and clarion-clear characters of the Old West—Doig is, indeed, a master at creating wonderfully authentic people that you really care about.
The story is poignant. Young Paul and his two younger brothers are experiencing the first year of grief following the death of their mother. Oliver Milliron, their father, is understandably overwhelmed with the task of being father, mother, and homesteader. Through the distant Minneapolis newspaper, he sees an ad by a housekeeper. In this manner, the ever-whistling, beautiful Rose Llewellyn comes into their life. She arrives unexpectedly with her brother, Morris Morgan, an eccentric, walking encyclopedia. Events unfold that push Morris toward becoming the town’s schoolmaster. Although he has never done anything like that before, teaching seems a task that he was born to. His students flourish under his idiosyncratic and outrageous style. But Rose and Morris hold a secret that Paul eventually uncovers. How he handles that situation delineates young Paul’s crossover from child to adult.
The novel is in every way, a loving lament about the passing of uniquely American way of life—the rough, yet magical and free life of Western Montana dry-land farming homesteaders.
The book is written from the oldest boy's POV and conveys great love for this former way of life and since I agree with him, I enjoyed it a great deal.
Most of us found the book a little slow to start with. The voice is very authentic, but takes some getting used to. But it’s worth persevering, we agreed. Soon you’re absorbed in a not-so-distant world, watching an everyday life that you more-than-half regret missing. Everything is told from the view-point of a young teenaged boy—details skipped that you might have wished told—details added that surprise and intrigue. And there’s a cleverness in the way the tale is put together that rewards deeper thought afterwards. Why doesn’t Rose cook? Why does she whistle? How do different pairs of siblings compare? And whose decisions in the end are more similar than different?
But, as I said, we weren’t at all sure about the end. We speculated at what might be missing, which questions unanswered perhaps, and came to no conclusion. Maybe that’s what the author intended of us, because life leaves us wondering too.
I felt like I’d spent a year in the country when I’d finished. It was a pleasant time though the living wasn’t easy. I learned something, and I’m left questioning—what have we gained? What have we lost? And when will Halley’s Comet return?