The Whistling Season

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Author: Ivan Doig

Title: The Whistling Season

Genre: Western

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 345

Geographical Setting: Marias Coulee, Montana

Time Period: 1909

Series (If applicable): Not applicable

Plot Summary: Paul Milliron, a Montana state superintendent of schools in 1957, is sent to close the last of the state’s rural schools. It is a wrenching task, and we learn why as his memories return to his childhood and the one-room schoolhouse he attended in Marais Coulee in 1909. Then a 13-year-old boy with a recently widowed father and two younger brothers, their lives change when his father decides to answer a newspaper ad (“Can’t cook but doesn’t bite”) and hire a housekeeper—lively Rose, who arrives with her enigmatic brother, Morris Morgan. Through small but vividly-told stories of home life, family relations, school adventures, and the developing connection between Paul and Morris, the characters come to life affectingly. When Morris becomes the new teacher, he proves inspiring and Paul receives an education that opens his mind to the possibilities of deep learning. When little brother Tobey’s foot is crushed by a horse and Rose moves in to care for him, romance grows between her and Paul’s father Oliver, which leads Paul to discover the secret of why the siblings left Minnesota for Montana. What will Paul do with the revelation? And how will he decide the fate of the schools? This deceptively simple tale is engagingly told through rich, vivid language.

Subject Headings: Brothers and sister—Fiction; Irrigation projects; Housekeepers; Teachers; Widowers; Montana.

Appeal: expert story teller; vivid landscape; flawless prose; evocative; irresistible characters; spunky; witty; gentle pace; persistent warmth; concrete detail; poetic passages; memorable scenes; old-school storytelling charm; free from cynicism.

Three terms that best describe this book: evocative; heartwarming; character-centered

Similar authors and works: (why are they similar?)

3 Relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors

a)      As Big as the West: the pioneer life of Granville Stuart by Clyde A. Milner & Carol A. O’Connor. A rich tale of a Gold Rush miner, Montana cattle baron, master of languages, and U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and Uruguay, not to mention father of 11 children, this is a fascinating look at the true American West of the 19th century.

b)      One Night in a Bad Inn by Christy Leskovar. For a darker look at Montana, try this lively true story of scandal, war, murder and mayhem about two colorful immigrant families in the first half of this century.

c)      Homesteading: A Montana Family Album by Percy Wollaston. An understated, readable memoir of a turn-of-the-century homesteader about the hard life on the plains, brought on by extreme weather, disease and drought, giving a human face to the history of homesteading.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

a)      Jim the Boy by Tony Earley.

An enchanting, detailed coming-of-age story that explores fatherless boyhood in rural North Carolina during the Great Depression, as Jim considers his place in the world and beyond.

b)      A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean. A tender story of a father (a minister) and his two sons, flyfishing and father-son relationships set vividly near Big Blackfoot River, Montana, this is now considered a classic among literature lovers.

c)      Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Although set in Idaho and New Mexico, among other western states, and told from the point of view of a woman, Stegner’s love story about a pioneer-era couple is an immensely satisfying read that unfolds in a long, lush story told in distinctive, gorgeous prose.

Soon Har



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