English Creek by Ivan Doig
I’m a total sucker for a first-person narrative told in a really engaging voice. And in this book—the voice is perfection.
For years now—years—I’ve been thinking someday I’d read something by Ivan Doig.
Why did I wait so long? (for more about me being a numbskull, here you go)
|(photo credit: Library of Congress)|
So there in
in the midst of the Great Depression, Jick is growing up. “Frankly, high among
my hopes about the business of growing up was that I would get a considerably
more substantial horse out of it.” (pp. 14-15) Montana
But he also finds himself wanting to ask his parents questions—about his brother and the new tension in the family, about how his parents met, about their younger years, about the forest ranger who preceded his father in the job and why he fell from grace—and he hardly knows how to ask.
As I read, I kept noting pages that contained stuff I really liked. Here are two examples:
“We tell ourselves whatever is needed to go from one scene of life to the next.” (p. 40) Man, if that ain’t true.
And this scene, in which Jick’s dad is calling the dance at the town fest:
“I stepped away from Ray, soldiered myself in front of my mother, and said:
‘Mrs. McCaskill, I don’t talk through my nose as pretty as the guy you usually gallivant around with. But suppose I could have this dance with you anyway?’
Her face underwent that rinse of surprise that my father sometimes showed about her. She cast a look toward the top of my head as if just realizing my height. Then came her sidelong smile, and her announcement:
‘I never could resist you McCaskill galoots.’” (pp. 204-205)
How can you not like that boy and his family?
Jick’s narrative voice is so lovely, and the voices of the other characters are just plain interesting, too.
When I read the final section of the reader’s guide in the book, I found out part of the reason why: Doig says that he found it easy to write in Jick’s voice, and he mentions that he had decades’ worth of file cards of phrasing and dialogue. In the Acknowledgments, he writes, “Thus it is very nearly forty years now that I have been listening to Montanans.” (p. 337)
And guys, he listened well. And by writing well, he lets us listen to their voices, too. The results are splendid.