Ivan Doig is one of my favorite authors, but I was a bit disappointed with The Whistling Season. It did have many of the characteristics I like about his books, but I felt that something was lacking. Doig is known for evoking the feeling and essence of “Big Sky” country – many of his books take place in eastern Montana, sometimes at the base of the Rockies. His writing is excellent (you have the sense that he chose each word carefully rather than just throwing sentences together) and he draws you in to the stories; you often will not want to put the book down. The Whistling Season was certainly well-written, but I think perhaps I felt that it did not create images of Big Sky country in my mind to the same extent that his other books did. I also felt that the characters were not as thoroughly drawn out as in some of his other books.
The plot of The Whistling Season is relatively simple: in the early 1900s, three boys live with their father on a farm in eastern Montana; their mother passed away the year before. Their father hires a housekeeper from Minneapolis; she arrives with her well-educated brother, who subsequently becomes an unusual school-teacher in the local one-room school house. The focus of the story is on the effect this new teacher has on the three boys as well as the other students. In fact, the narrator is the oldest son, and he tells the story from several decades later, when he is a superintendent of schools in Montana. The plot is somewhat secondary to the details, although there are also some clever plot twists at the end (which I will not mention so as not to give anything away). Although the ending was satisfying (and partly predictable), I felt that it was almost too clever, and that it detracted from the more subtle themes. One of these themes is the love of learning – not just book learning, but the unique learning that occurs in a one-room classroom.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed The Whistling Season (and could not put it down in parts), and I soaked up his wonderful choice of words as always. However, I did not enjoy it as much as other books by him and I would not recommend it as the first book to read by Doig. If you have never read a book by Doig, then Dancing at the Rascal Fair is probably the best one to start with.