Doig, Ivan. Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, 2006. 978-0-15-101237-4
Told through the eyes of a child on the brink of manhood, the tale takes shape on the windswept plains of a Montana dryland farming community. Paul Milliron and his brothers have just lost their mother. Their father, a brilliant man and terrible cook, is trying to be everything he can for his family. Enticed by a want ad that claims, “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite,” he brings a housekeeper into his family’s life and a slew of unique and captivating adventures follow.
Doig’s prose is absolutely delightful. He is the finest of craftsmen as he brings the magic of boyhood and a turn of the century Montana farming community together. Though the story is purely fictional, purely magical, and purely enjoyable, the manner in which he brings it to life is an absolute masterpiece.
Centered around the town’s one room schoolhouse, each of the amusing anecdotes branches out like spokes from a wagon wheel. And that is perhaps one of the author’s greater accomplishments – the manner in which so many unique tales tie together. Readers are sure to be in stitches when they encounter the celebrated backwards race that put an end to a schoolyard conflict, and they will mourn with the teacher when he loses one of his most surly pupils to a 16th birthday and an illiterate father. Spring cleaning, planting, sports, and an incoming comet also add spice to the story, all coming together in the life of a family of boys on the brink of growing up.
This won’t be the first coming of age story, nor the last story of boyhood the American reader will come across. However, it is one of the most magical and well-written fictional memoirs on the shelves of the local library. Free of the commonplace degeneracy inserted in modern novels to allegedly boost sales, “The Whistling Season” treats adult topics with an adult responsibility and boy’s topics with a wonder and mystique that remind the reader of the innocence of childhood.
Though the book encompasses a mere year in the life of the Millirons and their neighbors, the reader will turn the last page and feel a bond with the entire family and community. I found myself longing for a sequel - the book was just that good. While this novel may not have an obvious spiritual or didactical dimension, its contribution to literature is in its craftsmanship –and it truly is a piece of wonderful literature.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.