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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

The Bartender's Tale


The Bartender's Tale Cover

ISBN13: 9781594487354
ISBN10: 1594487359
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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M MacDonald, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by M MacDonald)
Ivan Doig just gets better and better. He makes you care for his characters through his use of first person narrative, which is engaging and right on. I can't wait for his next book.
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Walter Hauter, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Walter Hauter)
The Bartender's Tale is certainly the best fiction book of 2012. This is a full story told brilliantly.
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Linda Sakai, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Linda Sakai)
A great story and a wonderful storyteller. Thoroughly engrossing.
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dwrites, November 10, 2012 (view all comments by dwrites)
I have certainly done my share of loving Ivan Doig. The Whistling Season is one of just a handful of novels that stick with me year by year, and I read hundreds of novels every year. So I was excited to find The Bartender's Tale on the "new" shelf at my local library.

I've been known to be wrong, and it's hard to argue against a Kirkus review, but I'm sorry to report that I held my nose through a lot of The Bartender's Tale.

There are phrases, and phrase types, that Doig uses ad nauseum. One wants to look past these, to attribute them to the particular voice of the narrator, perhaps -- but then they fall persistently out of the mouths of various characters, and there goes that excuse, and it was a weak one to begin with.

Some of the prose is so muddled and plain muddy that a sentence will bear reading several times before the reader can catch the meaning. This is not, sorry to say, due to some sophisticated or elegant style or voice, but in fact the opposite. When writing is so clumsy that it calls attention to itself, it cannot be said to be elegant, can it. (That particular form of sentence, that ultimate clause with period that I just used, Doig employs so frequently, emerging from various characters and sometimes in the direct narration itself, that you can find two or more on a single page in more than one instance.)

I could pay for a hard-cover edition of this novel if I had a dollar for every time a form of the word "savvy" is used as a verb. Not even kidding. Maybe it was a kind of convention of the time and place (1960 rural Montana) of the book's setting, but this amount of repetition is plain annoying -- unless it's meant to depict an annoying habit of a particular character which, in this case, it is not.

Some threads are just plain lost or unfinished. When the starring pair of 12 year-olds are employed to rehearse dramatic lines with the local news editor's wife, the thread kind of peters along until it peters out, never mind that a happily-ever-after, quick-finish wrap-up in the final two pages of the novel shows that those moments became meaningful to the eventual life's work of the two kids. It ends up reading as a kind of after-thought, and it's a shame; a bit more development seemed promised and never delivered.

The saving grace is that one does find it easy to care for the two young protagonists, and therefore to care about the story of their dramatic summer of '60. That's why, though I vowed again and again to put the book down and not pick it back up, I plodded through. And with the exception of a certain few passages, owing to awkward syntax all over the place and even more awkward dialogue -- not what one expects of Ivan Doig -- it WAS a plod, I'm afraid. The boy's father, the most vital character besides the kids, held so much promise of complexity that one just keeps waiting for him to flower in full, but he seldom succeeds in developing much past two dimensions.

Now, again, I'm no PhD. I'm going to allow that maybe there's a secret formula or a certain form celebrated in The Bartender's Tale that just swoops over my head. I have read reviews that seem to repeat the "old-fashioned novel" notion. Well, I love a good old-fashioned novel; I repeat that I have loved Doig, and Dickens finds his way to my nightstand at least once a year, and plenty of honestly good, fully-developed novels that one might think of as pre-post-modern make their way into my mix. I anticipated this one with relish. But if a book has to stand on its own without regard for the great name behind it, well, this one is Doig's clunker, at least from where I sit.

Worth reading? That's why I give it three stars rather than two; it's a compelling-enough story, with a couple of well-enough drawn characters, if "enough" is enough for you to spend four hundred pages with. Reviewers have remarked of Bartender that Doig evokes time and place with some mastery. True enough, usually; there are whiffs of it here. But mostly even the setting, right down to the magical back room where pawn is collected for a reason kept secret until the last few pages, is more cardboard than one anticipates from Doig.

If one is interested in the Doig canon, it's worth a read. Particularly since someone else may disagree with me and come over here to tell me why I'm wrong. I want to be wrong.
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carldawg9, August 30, 2012 (view all comments by carldawg9)
Looking forward to reading this book. From the reviews and articles online, it looks to be another classic of his which will be read for years to come.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Doig, Ivan
Riverhead Trade
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Mass Market
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
includes online readers guide
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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The Bartender's Tale Used Hardcover
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Product details 432 pages Riverhead Books - English 9781594487354 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The summer of 1960 stretches wide in Doig's highly textured and evocative new novel, which returns to Work Song and The Whistling Season's Two Medicine County, Mont. After living half his life in Phoenix, Ariz., with his aunt, 12-year-old Russell 'Rusty' Harry comes back to the tiny town of Gros Ventre to live with his father, Tom, the owner of a popular saloon. Rusty's mother has been gone since she and Tom 'split the blanket' 12 years ago. Rusty entertains himself in the cavernous back room, which Tom operates like a pawnshop, taking in all manner of miscellany so sheepherders, ranchers, and others can pay for their drinks. When a local cafe comes under new ownership, 12-year-old Zoe Constantine shows up and soon becomes Rusty's partner in crime in the backroom, listening to the bar through a concealed air vent. It's a summer of change and new arrivals, as Delano Robertson, from Washington, D.C., comes to Gros Ventre to record the 'Missing Voices' of America, followed by the mysterious and sultry Proxy Duff and her 21-year-old daughter, Francine, who both claim a special connection to Tom. Filtering the world through Rusty's eyes, Doig gives us a poignant saga of a boy becoming a man alongside a town and a bygone way of life inching into the modern era. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , "Highly textured and evocative....Doig gives us a poignant saga of a boy becoming a man alongside a town and a bygone way of life inching into the modern era."
"Review" by , "Doig expertly spins out [the] various narrative threads with his usual gift for bringing history alive in the odysseys of marvelously thorny characters....Possibly the best novel yet by one of America's premier storytellers."
"Review" by , "[An] enjoyable, old-fashioned, warmhearted story about fathers and sons, growing up, and big life changes."
"Review" by , "Essential reading for anyone who cares about western literature."
"Review" by , "Doig cranks into motion a dense valentine of a novel about a father and a small town at the start of the 1960s....Doig writes the tenderness between Rusty and his father vividly, and his facility with natural, vernacular dialogue is often hypnotizing....The Bartender's Tale is thoroughly engaging, and the book's soft focus of nostalgia is in itself a kind of pleasure."
"Review" by , "With this expert novel, [Doig] sets himself a larger canvas and fills it with a diverse cast....Fact and fiction are skillfully fused to document a boy's last days of youth and a history his father can't leave behind....Rusty's youthful adventures are enchanting, but Doig does something more — he punctuates them with the colorful local idiom of his father's grizzled punters."
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