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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Whistling Season

The Whistling Season - Ivan Doig This book is one of my all time favorites. It is "poetry of the vernacular". If this story doesn't capture your heart you must be a snobbish city dweller who has no appreciation of America's rural past. The setting is rural Montana in 1909, a one-room grade school, and a family of three young boys and their father still mourning the death of their mother (and wife) the previous year. It takes a skilled writer to turn such a plain setting into one of the most enjoyable, interesting and humorous books I've ever read.

The story is told as memories of a 1950s era state school superintendent who is recalling his own experiences attending a rural Montana school 40 years earlier. Poignancy is added to the story by it being in the voice of a person who is part of the bureaucracy that is in the process of closing all one-room grade schools in the state. One reason this story resonates with me is that I attended the same one-room rural grade school that my father had attended, and it was the school where my mother had been the teacher for seven years before she was married. With this background I feel I was witness to the end of the era celebrated by this book because all rural school districts were consolidated into larger districts soon after I graduated. The book idealizes the one-room school by having probably the world's best teacher and some very intelligent students in attendance. My own experience attending a one-room school wasn't nearly so interesting or exciting. Nevertheless, I look back on my grade school years with great fondness and in a manner similar to the narrator of this book.

"Childhood is the one story that stands by itself in every soul," is a quote from this book with which I agree. The book's narrative begins, "When I visit the back corners of my life again after so long a time littlest things jump out first." Indeed, this story is mostly a collection of "littlest things," but all of them jump under the animating influence of Doig's vision.

This author deserves to be more widely known. Where has he been all these years? A long interview with the author is at the following web address:
I was shocked to learn that the author had not attended a one-room grade school himself. Well, after all it is a novel, not a biography, so I'll let that pass.