Upside down and flat back against the wall, behind the books presenting their spines of titles, a bit of the painting on the cover of this aging Penguin paperback caught my eye. I rearranged the books and pulled out English Creek by Ivan Doig. Wallace Stegner's front cover recommendation is fairly emphatic. He uses the word real three times: real Montana, real West and Doig is a real writer.
Stegner I know, so I figured Doig was worth a try; and he is.
Doig's story is set in the summer of 1939 in a fictive Montana region but he describes the terrain with such visual clarity that I could navigate myself up and down the buttes and valleys without a map.
I was still deciding if I would plunge in and commit to read when I met, on page three, a word new to me,"brockled."
"Jick, Set your mouth for it." Supper and my mother. It is indelible in me that all this began there right at the very outset of June, because I was working over my saddle and lengthening the stirrups again, to account for how much I was growing that year, for the ride up with my father on the counting trip the next morning. I can even safely say what the weather was, one of those brockled late afternoons under the Rockies when the tag ends of storm cling in the mountains and sun is reaching through wherever it can between the cloud piles. Tell me why it is that details like that, saddle stirrups a notch longer or sunshine dabbed around on the foothills some certain way, seem to be the allowance of memory while the bigger points of life hang back.Doig had me. Now I was ready for Jick to share the summer when he was not yet fifteen. I was ready to follow him from the light of the brockled afternoon into the family supper. The rift that manifests at the family table that night is continually set in more far reaching contexts as Doig spins a story both specific and universal through a young observer who is curious enough about human nature, heritage, history and the connections and dislocations in his wider community to open a very broad tale indeed.
You know that feeling when you are nearing the end of a story that you've entered into and you aren't ready for it to end; you know when you read that last page you are going to feel a little bereft? Well, that is where I was at when I mentioned to another neighbor, unconnected with the neighborhood book swap houses, how much I was enjoying what I thought was just an obscure little Montana story. " I love Ivan Doig," she said as she ran off to her den to retrieve three other of his books to lend to me. I haven't begun any of them yet, but it is a fine feeling knowing more of this author is now readily available to explore.
I'll leave you with the beginning of another passage that resonated with a desire in me.
Where morning is concerned, I am my father all over again. "The day goes downhill after daybreak" was his creed. I don't suppose there are too many people now who have seen a majority of the dawns of their life, but my father did, and I have. And of my lifetime of early rising I have never known better dawns than those when I rode from English Creek to my haying job on Noon Creek...(page 233)That is the lead-in to some inspired descriptions wrapped in and around Jick's deep as usual, thoughts and feelings and then Jick asks. "Is it any wonder each of these haying-time dawns made me feel remade?"
All right, I 'll admit, while I have sometimes been getting up in time to watch the sun climb over Mount St. Helena and her foothills, I as often find my way back to bed to sleep a bit more. Sleep is good for remaking and healing too, but new energy and the dawn are calling.
with best wishes,