Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig


It was so great to be back in the hands of Ivan Doig again! The Bartender's Tale (Riverhead, 2012), a father-son novel set in small town Montana near Doig's beloved English Creek, has a real flavor of its time, circa 1960. Young Rusty worships and reveres his bartender father. Yet he is mystified by him too, having been separated from him for a number of years. Things all come together during the summer of 1960, when Rusty, about age 12, becomes best friends with the new girl in town, Zoe.

Because much about Rusty's absentee mother as well as his father's history has been kept from him, he and Zoe conjure up all kinds of dramatic explanations. Zoe's parents run the cafe in town where Rusty eats every night. Those two have so much kismet together, they delight the heart. That summer they take a strong interest in acting. They also enjoy listening in on events going on in the bar from their perch in the office, where a hidden vent gives them a peek into the strange world of adults. More minor character come strongly to life, including sheepherders, a visiting oral historian, and others even closer to the father and son who I won't enumerate here for fear of getting into spoilers. The Bartender's Tale read like a classic, one I won't soon forget. Another Doig title I highly recommend is The Whistling Season (2007), one of my all-time favorites

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