Synopses & Reviews
From a great American storyteller, a one-of-a-kind father and his precocious son, rocked by a time of change.
Tom Harry has a streak of frost in his black pompadour and a venerable bar called The Medicine Lodge, the chief watering hole and last refuge of the town of Gros Ventre, in northern Montana. Tom also has a son named Rusty, an "accident between the sheets" whose mother deserted them both years ago. The pair make an odd kind of family, with the bar their true home, but they manage just fine.
Until the summer of 1960, that is, when Rusty turns twelve. Change arrives with gale force, in the person of Proxy, a taxi dancer Tom knew back when, and her beatnik daughter, Francine. Is Francine, as Proxy claims, the unsuspected legacy of her and Tom's past? Without a doubt she is an unsettling gust of the future, upending every certainty in Rusty's life and generating a mist of passion and pretense that seems to obscure everyone's vision but his own. As Rusty struggles to decipher the oddities of adult behavior and the mysteries build toward a reckoning, Ivan Doig wonderfully captures how the world becomes bigger and the past becomes more complex in the last moments of childhood.
"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.
"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." Kirkus (Starred Review)
"[An] enjoyable, old-fashioned, warmhearted story about fathers and sons, growing up, and big life changes." Library Journal
"Essential reading for anyone who cares about western literature." Bookpage (Starred Review)
"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." NPR
"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." Newsweek/Daily Beast
About the Author
Ivan Doig was born in Montana and grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front, the dramatic landscape that has inspired much of his writing. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, with a Ph.D. in history, Doig is the author of nine previous novels, most recently The Whistling Season and The Eleventh Man, and three works of nonfiction, including his classic first book, the memoir This House of Sky. He has been a National Book Award finalist and has received the Wallace Stegner Award, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western Literature Association, and multiple PNBA and MPBA Book Awards, among other honors. He lives in Seattle.