Art media are so varied. Written language is a favorite of mine. I feel exceptionally inadequate in presenting this piece of artwork. It so impressed me, however, that I must share it.
The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig’s latest book, is a gem. The story is simple; the narrative provides amazing artistry. Here’s the simple of it…in 1910, a Montana homesteading family consisting of a father and three boys, ages approximately 12, 9 and 6, find themselves having spent nearly a year alone since the death of their wife/mother. Father and sons decide that a housekeeper to cook and care for the house would now suit the bill. A very well-read family, they turn to their hometown newspaper in Minnesota. They find this ad entitled:
Can’t Cook But Doesn’t Bite
To this day I can hear the signal of amusement that line of type drew out of him. Father had a short, sniffing way of laughing, as if anything funny had to prove it to his nose first.
I glanced up from my geography lesson to discover the newspaper making its way in my direction. Father’s thumb was crimped down onto the heading of the ad like the holder of a diving rod striking water.
Doig is a master of making every word mean. In doing so he begins his “painting” with a design sketched out so evenly and deftly on each page. Then he strokes the pages with washes of color and maps the negative spaces in forceful colors.
The oilcloth took the beating of its life from sullen elbows that
evening after supper.
Descriptions and story are captured in daubs of paint that would make an Impressionist proud.
I can still see the schoolhouse as it appeared when we rode up out of The Cut, its paint a bit worn from the affections of the wind, its schoolyard trampled bare, its dawn-caught bank of windows a narrow aperture to sky and prairie.
And then there is characterization. The unusually erudite substitute teacher opens a special, family-night program celebrating a rare astronomical event in the area’s one-room schoolhouse with:
“Whatever little else we know about the properties of existence,
we map our days and nights by the fires in the heavens,” he began
in his best voice.”…Sunlight grants us sustenance of life as we
know it, moonlight clothes us in our own particular fabrics of
quest called dreams.”
And how about this description of a storm-promising sky from the hand of a true artist:
When I poked my head out in the last of dark, that next morning, up there was what looked like a vast laundry pile, gray mixed with white, as if the weather had been saving up and here was the heap.
I began my revel in the pages of this book for the story, but ended up relishing the language so much I cannot get it out of my mind. I suffer no delusions. I cannot do justice to this work but I do know a great work when I see it. Pardon my change in metaphor, but be prepared for quite a ride! The book is A Whistling Season by Ivan Doig.