This story is narrated by Morrie Morgan about 10 years after his time in Marias Coulee in The Whistling Season. After travelling to the Southern Hemisphere he is back in Montana.
“But an urge can spin the points of a compass as strongly as the magnetism of ore, and in spite of all that happened back then, here I was once more in the western territory at the very edge of the map of imagination.” [p 3]
He arrives in the midst of labor troubles, and, although he tries to stay neutral, he has to take a side.
“There is something in me that attracts situations, I know there is. Here I was, faced by three people with whom I had spent only forkfuls of time, asked to make one of those choices in life that can dwarf any other. I had to pick a side, right now, or else hit the chandelier switch again and bolt into the night.” [p 12]
So, Morrie once again is in the middle of things and has to navigate carefully through the minefield. A couple of the mine company’s thugs suspect him of bad intentions; he has to navigate his relationship with Grace, who is renting a room to him; and he has to tiptoe around his employer – the city librarian.
“The library ran on one principle: Samuel S. Sandison was next to God. Whether above or below, opinions varied.” ‘[p 83]
And through it all Morrie has to wonder if his past his catching up to him – which it does.
The novel is a fun enough read but seeing Morrie through the eyes of others – as in The Whistling Season – is more interesting than hearing him tell his own story. Like the other Ivan Doig novels I’ve read, the hero wins big in the end. But getting there is half the fun.
There are a couple of times in the novel where actions are nudged along without clear cause from with the story itself. For example, Morrie finds that Sanderson has a troubling past. He discovers this past from others but just as he does, Sanderson takes him aside and shares his side of the story. But Sanderson doesn’t know that Morrie knows and it isn’t clear why he opened up to Morrie.
There are interesting side characters such as his fellow renters Griff and Hooper. I especially liked the young “Russian Famine” a skinny, energetic errand boy. He doesn’t like his real name and to my delight we see how the term “nick name” came to be.
“‘Famine ain’t too bad. It’d be one of those nicked names, huh?’” [p 143]
At the end Morrie is off again; Sanderson muses on his experience with Morrie.
“‘One good thing about you, Morgan,’ he looked down hjis beard at me. ‘You don’t stick around long enough for a person to get sick of you.’” [p 287]
A fun novel, but I like The Whistling Season and The Bartender’s Tale better.