four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
By: 
Ivan Doig
user_rating: 
0

A-TheWhistlingSeasonIn 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. Narrated in 1957 by Oliver’s eldest son, Paul, The Whistling Season recalls this lost era as Paul, now the state’s public school superintendent, announces the closure of Montana’s one-room schoolhouses in the face of Sputnik.
Harcourt. 345 pages. $25. ISBN: 0151012377

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I’m here to report on my love affair with this magical novel. … The book is an elegy to the one-room schoolhouse and the kind of community it fostered, but it’s never weepily nostalgic." Brigitte Frase

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Doig is at his best. … Often a trademark of effective literature from the American West, [his] use of setting can be a catalyst of mood, a foreshadow of impending action or change, a harbored emotion of a character or town." Jennie A. Camp

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 4 of 5 Stars
"This enticing Montana-set story represents a welcome return for the legions of Doig fans, but also a most suitable introduction for those readers tardy in their discovery of this writer’s considerable charms and talents. … Not all days are halcyon on Montana’s western front … but this is a novel of hope, not despair." John Marshall

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In his hands, Paul’s Montana prairie community becomes a microcosm for all communities. And though the setting is the historical West, the forces at play on the characters remain current, from ethnic mistrust and millennial panic, to standardized tests and school closures—and a distant bureaucracy that holds sway over all." Tim McNulty

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Okay, so the major arc of the plot isn’t packed with suspense, but The Whistling Season isn’t about the destination (which is a good thing, because some contrived surprises at the end are the novel’s only real weakness). … When a voice as pleasurable as his evokes a lost era, somehow it doesn’t seem so lost after all." Ron Charles

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"Readers looking for this period language, as well as a traditional portrayal of turn-of-the-century trials, may find this book just charming enough. But overall, the stakes feel too low here, and the heavy sense of nostalgia makes the plot predictable and the relationships uncomplicated." Debra Gwartney

Critical Summary

Ivan Doig, along with Wallace Stegner and A. B. Guthrie, may be the quintessential Western writer. In 10 books of fiction and nonfiction, he has masterfully explored human communities set against a beautiful, if harsh, Montana landscape. The Whistling Season, a coming-of-age story told in flashbacks, thoughtfully evokes a lost time and place. Almost all aspects of this novel impressed the critics—the colorful characters, the emotional resonance, the rich period details, the eloquent prose, and even Morris’s lessons on astronomy and ancient history. Only the Oregonian felt this was good, not great, Doig—which still says a lot.

Also by the Author

This House of Sky Landscapes of a Western Mind (1979): In this memoir, Doig reflects with affection and honesty on his childhood in rugged Montana, where he and his father shared life’s joys and sorrows.