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Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
Ivan Doig
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Award Year: 
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A-The Eleventh ManIvan Doig, novelist of the American West, moves between the plains of Montana and the sprawling theaters of World War II in his 12th book (after Whistling Season, 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2006).

The Story: Ben Reinking, a former end for fictional Treasure State’s 1941 undefeated college football squad, is pulled out of flight school to write a propaganda account of his ten former teammates, now all enrolled in various arenas of World War II. Reinking travels back and forth from East Base, Montana, where he becomes involved with a married female pilot, to the jungles of New Guinea and the fields of Antwerp to chronicle the stories of his scattered teammates. He soon discovers that they are dying at a much higher rate than statistics say they should. Why and how could this be happening?
Harcourt. 416 pages. $26. ISBN: 0151012431

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Many authors peak with a second or third book and then dwindle in their later years, but Doig just keeps getting better. … Doig incorporates all the elements of a good novel: an intensifying love interest, the drama of war, repeated moments of life-or-death intensity, the complexity of multiple story lines, historical curiosities, seamless prose and even a winning football team." Jennie Camp

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"This is not a novel with a strong sense of suspense or dramatic complication. … Doig is known for his rich imagining of local American history and the nuances of human relationships, and this is a book that deliberately keeps its attention on the places where war intersects with those less dramatic themes." Molly Gloss

Seattle Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"While The Eleventh Man is a showcase for larger-than-life characters and scenes, at times it threatens to founder under the weight of its structure. Readers are parachuted into the lives of each teammate, then yanked up again and set on the road to somewhere and someone else." Mary Ann Gwinn

Denver Post 2 of 5 Stars
"The Eleventh Man is based on a great deal of original research, and there are some interesting passages about lesser-known aspects of the war. But the true-to-life story, rather than giving the novel some dramatic arc or momentum, tends to flatten it out." John Brening

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"There’s no vividness to Doig’s hero, or the rest of his characters. … Doig crafts a clutch of fine descriptive passages, but overall, the novel feels artificial, imitative and forced." Bob Hoover

Seattle Post Intelligencer 2 of 5 Stars
"Doig covers many areas of operations in his epic war story, both stateside and overseas. But there are too many in brief relief to build much momentum in this long novel. Readers can feel as yo-yo’d as Reinking does." John Marshall

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Ivan Doig’s old-fashioned storytelling tilts more toward sentimentality and occasional cliché here than in previous works. Doig, who normally writes smaller- ranging stories set in Montana and the American West, may have overextended himself in this novel. The structure that sends the protagonist in search of missing teammates all over the world results in fractured storytelling and characters who disappear too quickly to be developed. While most critics recognize Doig’s strong capacity for lyrical, descriptive writing, the consensus is that he is better off focusing his laser on the intimate lives of the American West than he is developing a wider focus in setting and in scope.

Recently Reviewed

Whistling Season (2006): 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2006. In 1909, recent widower Oliver Milliron and his three sons answer a newspaper ad for a housekeeper who "Can’t Cook But Doesn’t Bite." A surprisingly young and pretty Rose Llewellyn, with her erudite brother Morris Morgan in tow, soon arrives at Milliron’s Montana farm. Rose captures the family’s heart, Morris takes over the schoolteacher’s job, secrets emerge, and Rose and Morris forever change the Millirons’ lives.