Work Song, by Ivan Doig (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010).
"An award-winning and beloved novelist of the American West spins the further adventures of a favorite character, in one of his richest historical settings yet. "If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point," observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in Marias Coulee, the stage he stole in Ivan Doig's 2006 The Whistling Season. A decade later, Morrie is back in Montana, as the beguiling narrator of Work Song. Lured like so many others by "the richest hill on earth," Morrie steps off the train in Butte, copper-mining capital of the world, in its jittery heyday of 1919. But while riches elude Morrie, once again a colorful cast of local characters-and their dramas-seek him out: a look-alike, sound-alike pair of retired Welsh miners; a streak-of-lightning waif so skinny that he is dubbed Russian Famine; a pair of mining company goons; a comely landlady propitiously named Grace; and an eccentric boss at the public library, his whispered nickname a source of inexplicable terror. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a fiery young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the iron-fisted mining company, radical "outside agitators," and the beleaguered miners. And as tensions above ground and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one. "The most tumultous, quirky, and fascinating city in the American West of the last century has finally found a storyteller equal to its stories. ... Ivan Doig brings to life the core of humanity, and a hell of cast, amidst the shadows and sorrows of Butte, Montana -- a city that could say it never slept well before New York made a similar claim."
Interesting setting and plot, especially as I'm a sucker for anything having to do with labor issues -- but something about this one just left me wanting more. Maybe it's that I felt like I should have read The Whistling Season first to really "get" the characters of Morrie and Rabrab, which I haven't. As a standalone novel, it's good enough but nothing exceptional.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.