Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel

by Ivan Doig

Paper Book, 2015

Call number




Riverhead Books (2015), Edition: 1, 466 pages


"In the spirit of The Bartender's Tale, a lively and poignant coming-of-age story about a boy and his great-uncle on a cross-country odyssey. Donal Cameron is being raised by his grandmother, the cook at the legendary Double W ranch in 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 (as Donal discovers him to be), and Donal can't seem to get on her good side either. After one contretemps too many, Kate decides to pack him back to the authorities in Montana on the next Greyhound. But to Donal's surprise, he's not 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 another treasure of a novel from the best storyteller of the West"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Doig's final novel--what an incredible treat! I really hate to slap "coming-of-age" onto a book, because I know it turns many people off. It's a draw for me, but it must be well done. Doig did it as well as anyone, and he did it many times over.

Donny Cameron, a/k/a Red Chief, is an orphan, and he's
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on the road, not by choice. His custodial grandmother needs a serious operation, and feels she has no other option but to put him on the Greyhound to spend the summer with her sister while she recuperates. It's 1951, when the idea of sending an unaccompanied 11-year-old on a 1600 mile bus trip with a change of clothes and traveling money pinned inside his shirt pocket might have raised some eyebrows, but was apparently not as unthinkable as it seems now. Along with his hand-me-down wicker suitcase Donny has an autograph book, a slew of instructions from Gram, and a gift for invention that can kick into high gear at the drop of an innocent question. His traveling companions are a varied and ever-changing lot, and he views them all as potential contributors to the collection of autographs he hopes will get him into Ripley's Believe it or Not one day. As it turns out, getting from Gros Ventre, Montana, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was the easy part. There Donny meets his Aunt Kitty and Uncle Dutch, a mismatched pair if ever there was one, and finds his summer is not going to be a barrel of fun. His initial reaction to Aunt Kitty is that she's really the great Kate Smith (same broad beam and remarkable bosom, same melodious voice---why didn't Gram ever say??), but after the disappointment of finding that to be an illusion, it's all downhill. And Uncle Dutch, a/k/a Herman the German, can't help much against the Kate and her house rules. But then... Well, let's just say Huck and Jim got nothin' on Snag and One-Eye, as Donny and Herman become on the road to Wisdom. Don't miss this bus.

I've seen Doig compared to Wallace Stegner, and LT cross-recommends the two authors. Aside from the Montana connection, I just don't get that. Stegner fails to move me, although I admire his skill with the language; every Doig novel I've read so far has delighted me from beginning to end. None of his characters are ever at the mercy of their circumstances. No matter how rough things get, they are resourceful in meeting the challenges. Good luck and bad luck crop up in about equal measure. Doig also handles the grotesque with a much lighter touch, and his world comes alive in a way Stegner's has never quite done for me.
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LibraryThing member Deelightful
I read this for a book group and enjoyed it very much. It is the story of an 11-year-old boy and his eventful summer when he is sent to visit his unpleasant Aunt Kate in Wisconsin while his devoted grandmother recovers from surgery back in Montana.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This was my 2nd Ivan Doig novel. I thought the first was very simplistic. This book was his last and had received good reviews. If you like coming of age novels narrated in the 1st person by an 11 year old(who acts much more sophisticated than the normal 11 year old), then you will like this. It
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takes place in 1951 and captures the feel of the time. There are many adventures as Donal goes back and forth from Montana to Wisconsin on a grey hound bus. The writing was excellent with Doig capturing the colorfulness of his characters. The plot was simple and upbeat. If you like this genre, then this is a good read.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
When Donal Cameron's grandmother becomes ill, the 11 year old boy is sent by bus from Montana to his Great Aunt in Minnesota and so begins the journey of a lifetime. Set in the 1950's, Donal travels alone by Greyhound bus (aka the dog bus) and meets some whimsical characters along the way. But the
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journey takes Donal much further than Minnesota and with his quick wit and fast tongue, he survives some very sticky situations. It's hard to describe the appeal of this book. The dialog is witty and at some points, hysterical and the plot is steady and completely captivated me. If you are looking for a heartwarming story, this is it. One of my favorites of the year.
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LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
Let's start this review with my love of Ivan Doig's writing and storytelling. Last Bus is his last book -- and it's a good one, especially if you like the wild west, mostly Montana... it's the story of the summer adventures of a young, red-headed boy who is sent packing "east" to live with his
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Great Aunt, The Kate, while his grandmother (and caregiver) is in the hospital. What I enjoyed most was the heart and sole Doig put into Herman, the boy's Step-Great Uncle. There are also bus rides, rodeos, haying, and hobos.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
Eleven year old Donny Cameron has seen more than his share of bad luck. Orphaned when both his parents were killed in a car crash, he lives with his beloved grandmother who cooks for a Montana ranch. But she needs an operation that will require months of recuperation and hospital care. Told that
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there is no place for him on the ranch, Donny is put on a Greyhound Bus to spend the summer with his grandmother's sister with whom his grandmother doesn't get along and whom Donny has never met.

Things go awry and the great aunt determines to ship Donny back to Montana to a foster home. Happily, though, this is the last straw for his great-aunt's husband who runs away with Donny and their adventures begin.

This is Ivan Doig's last book and has become one of my favorites. Once again he wonderfully captures the flavor of Montana as well as a boy growing into a man. There is lots of humor, a good story and an almost-happy-ending for many.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Coming of age on the road.

Slightly extended review:

Traveling by Greyhound from Montana to Wisconsin and back, an eleven-year-old boy has adventures and meets characters who change his life.

It's a road story, a buddy story, a growing-up story, and we've read and seen it all before,
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but Doig in his last novel does it very, very well. It's one of those novels that have left me feeling as if I'd grown a whole new little world inside me.
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LibraryThing member janerawoof
Charming, humorous look at a bygone era [summer of 1951] through the eyes of a young boy, Donal, sent from Montana to visit his Great-Aunt and -Uncle in faraway Wisconsin, on the "dog bus" [i.e., Greyhound]. After a journey peopled by many eccentric characters and events, Donal reaches his
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relatives. The sheer bossiness and tyranny of his shrewish Aunt Kate, drive both him and the longsuffering Herman the German, as he gets to know his Uncle Dutch,--no Petruchio he--from the house and they head for the West, which Herman longs to see, having been immersed in Western novels. Outstanding were the sections on their visit to an Indian powwow where they meet a famous bronco buster and their visit to Yellowstone. They are introduced by hoboes to the hobo life. The story ended up giving me a warm glow. Doig is in top form here in this novel.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
I will miss Ivan Doig’s books so much! He left us a legacy of a beautifully written last novel. I keep saying trying to pick my favorite Doig book is impossible, but this ranks close to the top. Doig pulled my heart into the story of Donal, a 10-year-old orphan who must leave the ranch he loves
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and his grandma he loves to head to Wisconsin to live with a cold-hearted great-aunt and a timid great-uncle. A first kiss, a run in with a sheriff, and nearly having his luggage stolen comprise only part of Donal’s adventures on the Greyhound bus. When his aunt kicks him out and basically sends him off to an orphanage, his is surprised to find his western-novel loving uncle sneaking on the bus with him. And then the adventure really begins, turns out his great-uncle is a wanted man—he’s an illegal German alien, and in 1951 that isn’t a good thing. What a team Donal and his new-grandpa make. When they end up in Wisdom, Montana on a hay crew one hopes they have finished their bumpy ride and have found a home. I loved this book. Doig’s characters are endearing and memorable.
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LibraryThing member ZachMontana
Ivan Doig at his best tells a tale of an 11 year old boy sent by his Grandma from a Montana ranch to her sister in Wisconsin, who he's never met, on a Greyhound Bus. The abusive sister sends him back shortly and he is joined by her German husband who has had enough of the nitpicking bitty. Their
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adventures traveling back to Montana and joining a hay crew in Wisdom are fun. Seems like a simple tale, but it is aways intriguing and puts life lessons on full display.
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LibraryThing member Copperskye
It's 1951, and when 11 year old Donal's grandma takes ill, he travels solo from Montana on the "dog bus" to spend the summer in Wisconsin with relatives he's never met. Things take a turn and Donal finds himself this time heading west and to the best adventures of his summer. This is a rollicking,
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old-fashioned, travel-adventure story and a fine send-off for an author who will be sorely missed. You can just sense that Doig had fun writing this tale and it shines through in the dialog and characters
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LibraryThing member cindysprocket
What more can I add to all the great reviews ? Had not realized Mr. Doig had passed away.I will miss his writings.
LibraryThing member deldevries
Story telling that draws you in page by page. Not dramatic, everyday routines, plain characters that grow to become larger than they appear in the mirror. Good to the last sentence.
LibraryThing member deldevries
Story telling that draws you in page by page. Not dramatic, everyday routines, plain characters that grow to become larger than they appear in the mirror. Good to the last sentence.
LibraryThing member dbkitchens
Really good book.
LibraryThing member carolfoisset
Last book Doig wrote. Doig always manages to grab me with some of his insightful lines in his books. I did enjoy this one, although it is not one of my favorites of his. Parts of it moved a bit too slow for me, but it was still an enjoyable book. Did love the characters, Doig was a master at
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character development.
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LibraryThing member Lynsey2
A coming of age story about a young boy who is sent by greyhound bus to spend the summer in Wisconsin with relatives he doesn't know. A satisfying read filled with interesting characters and western history circa 1951.
LibraryThing member mldavis2
The author is recently deceased but this is my first encounter with his work. The book is a fictional account of an eleven year old budding con-artist making his way in the world away from his grandmother. Apparently, much of the background is related to the author's own life. A good read, not very
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LibraryThing member zmagic69
I got a little more than halfway through and had to stop.
No interesting characters and a going nowhere story. I get that it was the author’s last book but some paring down on parts that just drag on forever, would have been a good idea.





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