The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig is a gem I stumbled upon because the cover art created nostalgia within me (that one-room schoolhouse). I happily discovered that Doig is a master developer of characters, plot, time and place, but most especially language.
Ivan Doig writes about the American West of the early 1900’s. The Whistling Season is set in 1910 Montana, birth state of the author. The landscape of rural Montana plays a prominent role in this novel. Equally important are the quirky characters who populate the community of Marias Coulee.
The Whistling Season is narrated by Paul Milliron, oldest son of widower Oliver Milliron, after he becomes an adult, and in the 1950’s is charged with the tough decision of whether to close Montana’s one-room schoolhouses.
Widower Milliron and his three sons Paul, Damon, and Toby need help, a lot of help. They answer a newspaper advertisement in the Westwater Gazette, placed by Rose Llewellyn, of Minneapolis, that reads “Can’t Cook But Doesn’t Bite”. (The Millirons are hoping to change her mind about the cooking part.) Doig says speaking of Oliver’s response to the ad, “To this day I can hear the signal 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.”
Rose arrives with her unusual brother, Morris Morgan, in tow. Morrie is talked into becoming the only teacher in Marias Coulee’s one-room school house. With whistling Rose as the Milliron's housekeeper and the unpredictable Morrie as Marias Coulee's itinerate teacher, life will never be the same for this rural Montana community. Doig's family saga is rich with language, location, and loveable characters.
Readers can follow colorful Morrie Morgan to Butte, Montana, "copper capitol of the world" in Doig's newest novel Work Song.