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The Whistling Season

by

The Whistling Season Cover

ISBN13: 9780156031646
ISBN10: 0156031647
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

When i visit the back corners of my life again after so long a time, littlest things jump out first. The oilcloth, tiny blue windmills on white squares, worn to colorless smears at our four places at the kitchen table. Our fathers pungent coffee, so strong it was almost ambulatory, which he gulped down from suppertime until bedtime and then slept serenely as a sphinx. The pesky wind, the one element we could count on at Marias Coulee, whistling into some weather­-­cracked cranny of this house as if invited ­in.

 

           That night we were at our accustomed spots around the table, Toby coloring a battle between pirate ships as fast as his hand could go while I was at my schoolbook, and Damon, who should have been at his, absorbed in a secretive game of his own devising called domino solitaire. At the head of the table, the presiding sound was the occasional turning of a newspaper page. One has to imagine our father reading with his finger, down the column of rarely helpful want ads in the Westwater Gazette that had come in our weeks gunnysack of mail and provisions, in

his customary search for a colossal but underpriced team of workhorses, and that inquisitive finger now stubbing to a stop at one particular heading. To this day I can hear the signal of amusement that line of type drew out of him. Father had a short, sniffing way of laughing, as if anything funny had to prove it to his nose ­first.

 

           I glanced up from my geography lesson to discover the newspaper making its way in my direction. Fathers thumb was crimped down onto the heading of the ad like the holder of a divining rod striking water. “Paul, better see this. Read it to the ­multitude.”

 

           I did so, Damon and Toby halting what they were at to try to take in those five simple yet confounding ­words:

 

Cant Cook But Doesnt ­Bite.

 

           Meal­-­making was not a joking matter in our household. Father, though, continued to look pleased as could be and nodded for me to keep reading ­aloud.

 

Housekeeping position sought by widow. Sound morals, exceptional disposition. No culinary skills, but A­-­1 in all other household tasks. Salary negotiable, but must include railroad fare to Montana locality; first year of peerless care for your home thereby guaranteed. Respond to Boxholder, Box 19, Lowry Hill Postal Station, Minneapolis, ­Min­nesota.

 

Normal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 24.0pt"           Minneapolis was a thousand miles to the east, out of immediate reach even of the circumference of enthusiasm we could see growing in our father. But his response wasted no time in trying itself out on the three of us. “Boys? Boys, what would you think of our getting a ­housekeeper?”

 

           “Would she do the milking?” asked Damon, ever the cagey ­one.

 

           That slowed up Father only for a moment. Delineation of house chores and barn chores that might be construed as a logical extension of our domestic upkeep was exactly the sort of issue he liked to take on. “Astutely put, Damon. I see no reason why we cant stipulate that churning the butter begins at the point of the ­cow.”

 

           Already keyed up, Toby wanted to know, “Where she gonna ­sleep?”

 

           Father was all too ready for this one. “George and Rae have their spare room going to waste now that the teacher doesnt have to board with them.” His enthusiasm really was expanding in a hurry. Now our relatives, on the homestead next to ours, were in the market for a lodger, a lack as unbeknownst to them as our need for a housekeeper had been to us two minutes ­ago.

 

           “Lowry Hill.” Father had turned back to the boldface little advertisement as if already in conversation with it. “If Im not mistaken, thats the cream of ­Minneapolis.”

 

           I hated to point out the obvious, but that chore seemed to go with being the oldest son of Oliver ­Milliron.

 

           “Father, were pretty much used to the house muss by now. Its the cooking part you say you wouldnt wish on your worst enemy.”

 

           He knew—we all knew—I had him ­there.

 

size: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'"           Damons head swiveled, and then Tobys, to see how he could possibly deal with this. For miles around, our household was regarded with something like a low fever of consternation by every woman worthy of her apron. As homestead life went, we were relatively prosperous and “bad off,” as it was termed, at the same time. Prosperity, such as it was, consisted of payments coming in from the sale of Fathers drayage business back in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The “bad off” proportion of our situation was the year­-­old grave marker in the Marias Coulee cemetery. Its inscription, chiseled into all our hearts as well as the stone, read Florence Milliron, Beloved Wife and Mother (1874–1908). As much as each of the four of us missed her at other times, mealtimes were a kind of tribal low point where we contemplated whatever Father had managed to fight onto the table this time. “Tovers, everyones old favorite!” he was apt to announce desperately as he set before us leftover hash on its way to becoming leftover ­stew.

 

           Now he resorted to a lengthy slurp of his infamous coffee and came up with a response to me, if not exactly a ­reply:

 

           “These want ads, you know, Paul—theres always some give to them. It only takes a little bargaining. If I were a wagering man, Id lay money Mrs. Minneapolis there isnt as shy around a cookstove as she makes herself out to ­be.”

 

           “But—” My index finger pinned down the five tablet­-­bold words of the ­heading.

 

           “The woman was in a marriage,” Father patiently overrode the evidence of the newsprint, “so she had to have functioned in a ­kitchen.”

 

           With thirteen­-­year­-­old sagacity, I pointed out: “Unless her husband starved ­out.”

 

           “Hooey. Every woman can cook. Paul, get out your good pen and ­paper.”

 

 

 

~

 

ZE: 9pt; FONT-FAMILY: Times; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-family: 'Times New Roman'"This jilted old house and all that it holds, even empty. If I have learned anything in a lifetime spent overseeing schools, it is that childhood is the one story that stands by itself in every soul. As surely as a compass needle knows north, that is what draws me to these remindful rooms as if the answer I need by the end of this day is written in the dust that carpets ­them.

 

           The wrinkled calendar on the parlor wall stops me in my tracks. It of course has not changed since my last time here. Nineteen fifty­-­two. Five years, so quickly passed, since the Marias Coulee school board begged the vacant old place from me for a month while they repaired the roof of their teacherage and I had to come out from the department in Helena to go over matters with them. What I am startled to see is that the leaf showing on the calendar—October—somehow stays right across all the years: that 1909 evening of Paul, get out your good pen and paper, the lonely teachers tacking up of something to relieve these bare walls so long after that, and my visit now under such a changed sky of ­history.

 

           The slyness of calendars should not surprise me, I suppose. Passing the newly painted one­-­room school, our school, this morning as I drove out in my state government car, all at once I was again at that juncture of time when Damon and Toby and I, each in our turn, first began to be aware that we were not quite of our own making and yet did not seem to be simply rewarmed tovers of our elders, either. How could I, who back there at barely thirteen realized that I must struggle awake every morning of my life before anyone else in the house to wrest myself from the grip of my tenacious dreams, be the offspring of a man who slept solidly as a railroad tie? And Damon, fists­-­up Damon, how could he derive from our peaceable mother? Ready or not, we were being introduced to ourselves, sometimes in a fashion as hard to follow as our fathers reading finger. Almost any day in the way stations of childhood we passed back and forth between, prairie homestead and country school, was apt to turn into a fresh puzzle piece of life. Something I find true even ­yet.

 

           It is Toby, though, large­-­eyed prairie child that he was, whom I sensed most as I slowed there at the small old school with its common room and the bank of windows away from its weather side. Damon or I perhaps can be imagined taking our knocks from fate and putting ourselves back into approximately what we seemed shaped to be, if we had started off on some other ground of life than that of Marias Coulee. But Toby was breath and bone of this place, and later today when I must go into Great Falls to give the county superintendents, rural teachers, and school boards of Montanas fifty­-­six counties my edict, I know it will be their Tobys, their schoolchildren produced of this soil and the mad valors of homesteaders such as Oliver ­Milliron, that they will plead ­for.

Copyright © 2006 by Ivan Doig

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced

or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,

without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should

be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,

6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 9 comments:

Oofie, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Oofie)
An exquisitely crafted story weaving historical occurrences and issues from early 19th century West (eastern Montana) into a motherless family of boys and their father as they encounter a couple (housekeeper and eventual school teacher) who change their lives forever. Funny, heart wrenching, social commentary, coming of age, adventures, characters you will never forget, and an amazing use of vocabulary. Not to mention a book steeped in the vastness of the high plains and culture which shapes its inhabitants. LOVED this book!!!!!
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Michael Vail, January 27, 2012 (view all comments by Michael Vail)
very well written and entertaining
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Didi T, January 17, 2011 (view all comments by Didi T)
It had been quite a few years since I'd read a book by Ivan Doig. Most had been wonderful reads that captured me with their sense of place and authenticity of character (with a few notable exceptions such as Ride With Me Mariah Montana.) The Whistling Season reminded me that Doig is a outstanding writer who can write with sensitivity and skill. He still has a knack for the unexpected as well.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780156031646
Author:
Doig, Ivan
Publisher:
Harvest Books
Author:
Machart, Bruce
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Brothers and sisters
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20070531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in
Age Level:
from 18

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The Whistling Season Used Trade Paper
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Product details 352 pages Harvest Books - English 9780156031646 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Any writer's work should be judged solely on its own merits, yet in this fine novel by Ivan Doig, one may be forgiven for marveling at the creation of such a work at an advanced stage of this writer's illustrious career. (Wallace Stegner — to whom, as with Doig, landscape was character and event in any story, and particularly Western landscapes — comes to mind with his classic Crossing to Safety.)Like many of Doig's earlier novels, The Whistling Season is set in the past in rural eastern Montana — and addresses that time and place in distinct, uncluttered prose that carries the full enthusiasm of affection and even love — for the landscape, the characters, and the events of the story — without being sentimental or elegiac. The novel is narrated by an aging Montana state superintendent of schools, Paul Milliron, who is charged with deciding the fate of the state's last scattered rural schools, and who, in the hours preceding his meeting to determine those schools' fate, recalls the autumn of 1909, when he was 13 and attending his own one-room school in Marias Coulee.Recently widowed, Paul's father, overwhelmed by the child-rearing duties presented by his three sons, in addition to his challenging farming duties, hires a housekeeper, sight unseen, from a newspaper ad. The housekeeper, Rose, proclaims that she 'can't cook but doesn't bite.' She turns out to be a beguiling character, and she brings with her a surprise guest — her brother, the scholarly Morris, who, though one of the most bookish characters in recent times, also carries brass knuckles and — not to give away too much plot — somehow knows how to use them.The schoolteacher in Marias Coulee runs away to get married, leaving Morris to step up and take over her job. The verve and inspiration that he, an utter novice to the West, to children and to teaching children, brings to the task is told brilliantly and passionately, and is the core of the book's narrative, with its themes of all the different ways of knowing and learning, at any age.Doig's strengths in this novel are character and language — the latter manifesting itself at a level of old-fashioned high-octane grandeur not seen previously in Doig's novels, and few others': the sheer joy of word choices, phrases, sentences, situations, and character bubbling up and out, as fecund and nurturing as the dryland farmscape the story inhabits is sere and arid. The Whistling Season is a book to pass on to your favorite readers: a story of lives of active choice, lived actively. (June)" Signature Review by Rick Bass. Rick Bass is the Pushcart and O. Henry award-winning author of more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books. His second novel, The Diezmo, will be published in June. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Doig blends a coming of age story and late-life reflection to luminous effect....[A]nother memorable tale set in the historical West but contemporary in its themes and universal in its insights into the human heart."
"Review" by , "This is an affectionate, heartwarming tale that also celebrates a vanished way of life and laments its passing."
"Review" by , "Doig's story centers on the impact of these unconventional siblings on simple rural lives."
"Review" by , "An entrancing new chapter in the literature of the West."
"Review" by , [P]rovides us with a portrait of early 20th century Western life. The book isn't plot-driven, but instead offers an intimate look at a crucial year in a young boy's existence....The charm of The Whistling Season lies in the seemingly ho-hum plot. Doig's quiet, flowing prose keeps the subtle story in motion."
"Review" by , "Both elegiac and life-affirming, The Whistling Season takes the chill out of today's literary winds."
"Review" by , "The Whistling Season does what Doig does best: evoke the past and create a landscape and characters worth caring about....Doig's pace is leisurely, but the plot takes a surprising twist."
"Synopsis" by ,
A New York Times Editors Choice

A Washington Post Book World Best Book of the Year

 

[quote side bar]

"Flawless."—O, the Oprah Magazine

"Courageous."—Washington Post Book World

"Evocative."—The New Yorker

"Life-affirming."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

 "Magical."—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Luminous."—Seattle Times

 

[body copy]

"[A] memorable tale set in the historical West but contemporary in its themes and universal in its insights into the human heart."—Seattle Times

 

"Cant cook but doesnt bite." So begins the ad that deposits the noncooking, nonbiting, ever-whistling housekeeper Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee, Montana in the fall of 1909. In the unforgettable season that follows, Morris and Rose bring "several kinds of education"—none of them of the textbook variety—to widower Oliver Milliron, his three sons, and the rambunctious students in the regions one-room schoolhouse. A paean to a vanished way of life and the eccentric individuals and institutions that made it fertile, The Whistling Season is Ivan Doig at his best.

 

"The Whistling Season takes the chill out of todays literary winds."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

 

"Lovely storytelling, whether youre in Montana or New York."—USA Today

 

Ivan Doig is the author of ten previous books, including the novels Prairie Nocturne and Dancing at the Rascal Fair. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, Doig holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He lives in Seattle.

"Synopsis" by ,
Bruce Machart tells an epic story of a Texas family at the turn of the twentieth century: a family of men led by a father, emotionally crippled following the death of his wife while in childbirth with their fourth boy, Karel. From an early age, Karel proves so talented on horseback that his father enlists him to ride in acreage-staked horseraces against his neighbors, culminating in the ultimate high-stakes race against a powerful Spanish patriarch and his alluring daughters. Hanging in the balance are his fathers fortune, his brothers futures, and his own fate. Fourteen years later, with the stake of the race still driven hard between him and his brothers, Karel is finally forced to dress the wounds of his past and salvage the tattered fabric of his family. 

With rich descriptive language and a cadence as deliberate and determined as the people and horses of the story, The Wake of Forgiveness compels us to consider the inescapable connections between sons and their mothers, between landscape and family, and between remembrance and redemption.

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