The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
My book club met this week to discuss The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. The novel is narrated by Paul, the Montana Superintendent of Schools, who has been charged with the task of closing the rural one-room schoolhouses in his state. Paul is a product of one of those schools, and as he reminisces about his childhood he takes the reader back to his school days and to the importance those one room schoolhouses brought to their far-reaching communtities.
The novel easily slides between Paul at age 13 in 1909 and Paul as an adult in the 1950s. He shares his family through memories, and we meet his widowed father and two younger brothers. We learn that the Milliron family hires a housekeeper from back East based on a newspaper ad which begins, “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” So enters Rose and her brother Morrie, which begins the whistling season. (Rose might not cook, but she whistles.) As Rose settles into life as the Milliron’s housekeeper, Morrie is pressed into service as the new schoolteacher. His knowledge and enthusiasm bring life to their little Montana schoolhouse in ways the children and their parents would never have dreamed of.
This is a coming-of-age story that reads like poetry. Doig’s way with words is beautiful and I found myself jotting down quotes as I read, or marking passages to share at book club. I loved how genuine his characters were – I could just picture the three boys giving each other spitbath handshakes as they promised to keep each other’s secrets. The book charmed me – plain and simple. It’s not without its twists and turns, and even a few things that you could see coming, but it doesn’t disappoint. If anything, I wish it would’ve lasted a little longer. I’m definitely planning to read more of Doig’s books. Let me know if you’ve read it too. I’d love to hear what you think.