Ride With Me, Mariah Montana by Ivan Doig

TitleRide With Me, Mariah Montana
AuthorIvan Doig
FinishedJanuary 20, 2021

This is the final book of the Ivan Doig’s Montana trilogy. It focuses on the 1989  centennial celebration; In the second book – though first in the fiction timeline – Montana’s statehood was celebrated. The small town way of life in Montana is not always as bright as it seemed in 1889:

“These are not the best of times for towns like Gros Ventre or the rural neighborhoods they are tied to. The young go away, the discount stores draw shopping dollars off to bigger places, the land that has always been the hope of such areas is thinner and thinner of people and promise. Yet, maybe because the human animal cannot think trouble all the time, anybody with a foot or wheel to get here [the Gros Ventre committee meeting] had come tonight to advance the community’s centennial rite.”

Page 126

All three novels cover the McCaskill clan living around the fictional town of Gros Ventre (based on Doig’s hometown of Dupuyer) . Here we revisit Jick – who was a teenager in the first novel – and is now a widower considering selling his ranch. He joins his photographer daughter, Mariah, and her ex-husband reporter Riley in a tour of Montana for a series on the centennial. It’s a stormy affair as there is no love lost between Jick and Riley.

The newspaper series is an excellent construct for seeing the dynamics of the three – and later four – characters in close proximity over a summer, and for exploring the diversity of Montana. We see mining up in Butte, farming and ranching on the east slopes of the Rockies, and the open spaces of the plains in the east of the state. As the summer turns to fall on the plains,

“Wouldn’t you know, the afternoon had turned as blustery outside as in. Clouds needed to come a long way to these eastern Montana plains and they always seemed to mean business by the time they got here.”

Page 253

Ivan Doig is at his best when writing about the sweeping landscapes of Montana.

“This may be my own private theory about such summer evenings but it has always seemed to me that lussl of this sort are how a person heals from the other weather of this land, for the light calmly going takes with it the grievances that the Two is a country where the wind wears away at you on a daily basis, where drought is never far from happening, where the valley bottoms now in the perfect shirtsleeve climate of summer dusk were thirty-five degrees below zero in the nights of February.” [p 115]

Page 115

I also enjoy reading Doig’s novels for his expressions that capture a person in a few words.

  • “Riley still stood there gawking like a moron trying to read an eye-chart.” [p 120]
  • “As far as we were concerned this highway had been squeezed out of a tube of monotony.” [p 174]
  • “‘Get a lot of fascinating stuff out of Good Help [Hebner] did you?’ ‘Gobs and gobs’ he replied sardonically. ‘I figure I’d write that he’s as intrinsccially American as the Mississippi River … A mile wide at the mouth.'” [p 174]
  • “Like the kid starting his third year in the second grade, it was beginning to edawn on me how much ground I was losing.” [p 251]
  • “Jick, you Two Medicine people get up before God sends Peter out to the Gate.” [p 297]

This is a good book, but my least favorite of the three; “Dancing at the Rascal Fair” is far away the best of the series and my favorite of all Ivan Doig’s books I’ve read. Sometimes Doig dishes out happy endings at the end. I’m not against happy endings, in this time of COVID happy endings are to be enjoyed, but at times it seems forced. And Jick irritates me through a lot of the story: he has his nose too firmly planted in his daughter’s business. 

To get the most from this novel you need to read it as part of the trilogy. I suggest  you read them in the fictional timeline order rather than in the order they were published. Here is the list in order they should be read and the publishing dates in parenthesis; links are to my reports on the books.

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