Work Song

Work Song

3.5 14
by Ivan Doig
     
 

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An award-winning and beloved novelist of the American West spins the further adventures of a favorite character, in one of his richest historical settings yet.

"If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point," observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in…  See more details below

Overview

An award-winning and beloved novelist of the American West spins the further adventures of a favorite character, in one of his richest historical settings yet.

"If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point," observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in Marias Coulee, the stage he stole in Ivan Doig's 2006 The Whistling Season. A decade later, Morrie is back in Montana, as the beguiling narrator of Work Song.

Lured like so many others by "the richest hill on earth," Morrie steps off the train in Butte, copper-mining capital of the world, in its jittery heyday of 1919. But while riches elude Morrie, once again a colorful cast of local characters-and their dramas-seek him out: a look-alike, sound-alike pair of retired Welsh miners; a streak-of-lightning waif so skinny that he is dubbed Russian Famine; a pair of mining company goons; a comely landlady propitiously named Grace; and an eccentric boss at the public library, his whispered nickname a source of inexplicable terror. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a fiery young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the iron-fisted mining company, radical "outside agitators," and the beleaguered miners. And as tensions above ground and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one.

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Editorial Reviews

Joanna Hershon
…not one stitch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative. And while Doig lays out the plot somewhat predictably, he also makes room for reflective moments in which Morrie confronts fears both real and imagined; it's through these reflections that we get fine glimpses of his darker persona…In conjunction with Morrie's interactions among the ­other characters, these more introspective passages help to build an appealing storytelling rhythm.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Doig affectionately revisits Morris "Morrie" Morgan from the much-heralded The Whistling Season. Now, 10 years later, in 1919, Morrie lands in Butte, Mont., beholding the area's natural beauty that "made a person look twice." Scoring a job is a top priority, as is getting more face time with Grace Faraday, the alluring widow who runs the boardinghouse where he stays. Things, naturally, are complicated, as the fiendishly bookish Morrie is on the run from Chicago gangsters who feel they've been duped after he scored a windfall from a fixed sports wager. The local "shysters" at the duplicitous Anaconda Copper Mining Company, meanwhile, find Morrie's sudden interest in Butte highly suspicious as they try to bully Grace into selling her property. Morrie lands what might be an ideal job working at the public library with ex–cattle rancher Samuel Sandison, though our sturdy narrator must choose sides when the mining company ups the ante. Drama ebbs and flows as Morrie yields to the plight of union leader Jared Evans, and Morrie and Samuel come to terms with sins from their pasts. Charismatic dialogue and charming, homespun characterization make Doig's latest another surefire winner. (July)
From the Publisher
"A genuinely sweet book by a writer who is generous to his characters and readers alike...start to finish Morrie proves a character in the best sense of the word...He's awfully good company...a character with whom it's a pleasure to pass the time no matter the scenery."
Missoula Independent

"Entertaining for its rich historical take on the town of Butte...and for its evocative descriptions."
Bookpage E-Newsletter

"A classic tale from the heyday of American capitalism by the king of the Western novel."
The Daily Beast (Hot Reads)

"As enjoyable and subtly thought-provoking a piece of fiction as you're likely to pick up this summer. It's a book that can be appreciated just for the quality of the prose and the author's adherence to the sturdy conventions of old- fashioned narrative or for Doig's sly gloss on Western genre fiction and unforced evocation of our current condition - or, better yet, for all those things...One of this novel's pleasures is the rich cast of secondary characters Doig effortlessly sketches into his narrative...a pleasure to read."
The Los Angeles Times

"Relax and allow yourself to be re-absorbed into a way of life that is, day by day, being lost to strip malls and strip mining...As in his previous novels, Doig excels at his descriptions of both characters and the land. ..It's hard to keep a smile off your face as you're working your way through this book. Nostalgia has found a happy home here."
New West (starred review)

"If you were looking for a novel that best expresses the American spirit, you'd have to ride past a lot of fence posts before finding anything as worthy as Work Song.
Chicago Tribune

"Not one stictch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative ... infectious."
The New York Times Book Review

"Readers who fell in love with Morrie Morgan in The Whistling Season will welcome him back to Montana in Ivan Doig's latest adventure. The pages turn quickly ... Doig's love of language - more specifically, storytelling - is apparent throughout. ... Richly imagined and beautifully paced."
Associated Press

"With deft strokes of storytelling, Doig paints a vivid scene. [He] introduces ... the most unforgettable librarian in all of American fiction [among] a reach of characters worthy of Dostoevsky. ... Doig has delivered another compelling tale about America, epic as an Old West saga but as fresh and contemporary as the news."
The Seattle Times

"Another insightful, highly readable look at the landscape of the land and the soul...[Doig's] masterful hand takes readers skillfully into the past with a human story that echoes today ... a true treasure."
The Billings Gazette

"Magical ... you'll be enjoying every bit of [Doig's] breathtaking storytelling prowess."
Bookpage.com

"More atmospheric, pleasingly old-fashioned storytelling from Doig...whose ear for the way people spoke and thought in times gone by is as faultless as ever."
Kirkus Reviews

"The most tumultous, quirky, and fascinating city in the American West of the last century has finally found a storyteller equal to its stories. ... Ivan Doig brings to life the core of humanity, and a hell of cast, amidst the shadows and sorrows of Butte, Montana - a city that could say it never slept well before New York made a similar claim."
Tim Egan, author of The Last Hard Time and The Big Burn

"Butte is by far the most colorful town in Montana, a kaleidoscope of culture, commerce and copper mines, the perfect palette for an artist like Ivan Doig. Work Song doesn't just hum along-its rich authenticity echoes and resonates."
Jamie Ford, author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Library Journal
Doig's eagerly awaited sequel to The Whistling Season (2006) begins ten years later in 1919, when Morrie Morgan gets off the train in Butte, MT, "the richest hill on earth," run by Anaconda Copper. He settles into a boardinghouse run by the widow Grace and is befriended by her other boarders, Griff and Hoop, two retired miners who tell Morrie what's going on in town. Scholarly Morrie finds his niche at the public library, the domain of a crusty retired rancher named Sandison, who comes with the territory because the entire library is his own magnificent book collection. Before long, Morrie discovers he's being shadowed by Anaconda's thugs for being a strike agitator, when, in fact, he tries not to take sides in the miners vs. Anaconda dispute. He can't stay neutral for long, however—his knowledge of bookkeeping provides the miners' union with a bargaining chip. His musical talent helps 200 tough, rock-hard miners, smuggled into the library basement after hours, compose a rousing strike song that will bolster their courage during coming hard times. VERDICT Doig delivers solid storytelling with a keen respect for the past and gives voice to his characters in a humorous and affectionate light. Recommend this to everyone you know; essential. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/10.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
Returning to Montana in 1919, ten years after he pinch-hit as a rural schoolteacher in The Whistling Season (2006), Morris Morgan finds the city of Butte roiled by labor unrest. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company has just imposed a 22 percent pay cut that has union leader Jared Evans reluctantly planning a strike if the company won't negotiate in good faith. Morrie is sympathetic, particularly since Jared is engaged to one of his former students, but he's more interested in finding a job and getting better acquainted with Grace Faraday, the feisty widowed proprietress of his boardinghouse. After an unsatisfactory stint at a funeral home-the boozy wakes are too hard on his head-Morrie's scholarly savoir faire gets him hired by Samuel Sandison, an eccentric former rancher who runs the Butte public library (mostly because the trustees covet his magnificent book collection). Unfortunately, Morrie gets noticed by two of Anaconda's goons, who think that a guy arriving in Butte with a sketchy back story and without a trunk must be one of those radical outside agitators the company likes to string up from time to time. Since Morrie is still on the lam from Chicago gangsters who took a dim view of his winning money from them by betting on a fixed fight, he's not eager to have anyone poking around in his past. So it's maybe not the smartest move to agree to let the union hold clandestine meetings at the library, especially since Sandison has warned him against taking sides, but Morrie can't help getting involved when his sympathies are roused. His debonair, mildly sardonic voice makes Morrie an engaging narrator/protagonist, though the novel's most riveting character is Sandison, who atones for past misdeeds with an appropriately bookish contribution to the union's struggle. More atmospheric, pleasingly old-fashioned storytelling from Doig (The Eleventh Man, 2008, etc.), whose ear for the way people spoke and thought in times gone by is as faultless as ever.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101188330
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
06/29/2010
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
166,023
File size:
525 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Readers who fell in love with Morrie Morgan in The Whistling Season will welcome him back to Montana in Ivan Doig’s latest adventure… Richly imagined and beautifully paced.” –The Associated Press

“Not one stitch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative… infectious.” –The New York Times Book Review

“As enjoyable and subtly thought-provoking a piece of fiction as you’re likely to pick up this summer. A pleasure to read.” –Los Angeles Times

“If you were looking for a novel that best expresses the American spirit, you’d have to ride past a lot of fence posts before finding anything as worthy as Work Song.” –Chicago Tribune

“A classic tale from they heyday of American capitalism by the king of the Western novel.” –The Daily Beast

Meet the Author

Ivan Doig was born in Montana and grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front, the dramatic landscape that has inspired much of his writing. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, with a Ph.D. in history, Doig is the author of nine previous novels, most recently The Whistling Season and The Eleventh Man, and three works of nonfiction, including his classic first book, the memoir This House of Sky. He has been a National Book Award finalist and has received the Wallace Stegner Award, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western Literature Association, and multiple PNBA and MPBA Book Awards, among other honors. He lives in Seattle.

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Work Song 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
carolthereadingfool More than 1 year ago
I was born and raised in Montana, my uncles worked in some of the Butte mines so this was fascinating to me. Sometimes I think Butte is not a place but a state of mind, all the folks I met when I lived here were kind to one another, that is the working folks, even though lots of them were a "rough" bunch. My favorite uncle died in a mine accident, though not one in Butte but in Idaho. This is a fascinating story well worth reading.
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