This book starts out a bit slow but don’t let that deter you from pressing on… it gets better. Ivan Doig masterfully interweaves early 20th century history into this novel. It is an homage to a way of life that doesn’t exist any longer. As always, Ivan Doig’s work is evocative of a time long gone. This is book one of a triology set in Montana.
The novel is narrated by young Paul Milliron, the oldest son of Oliver Milliron, who has been recently widowed.
Oliver decides that he and his three boys (Paul, Damon and Toby) need a housekeeper, someone to help them put their lives back in order. Oliver answers an ad for a housekeeper from Minneapolis – Rose Llewellyn.
As it turns out, Rose is a great housekeeper, but can’t cook (her original ad so noted: “can’t cook but doesn’t bite”). She arrives, surprisingly with Morris Morgan, her brother and then Oliver must not only settle Rose in but find something for Morris (“Morrie”) to do as well.
After Miss Trent, the teacher, runs off to get married to the itinerant preacher, Morrie becomes headmaster and teacher at the one-room school. As it turns out, Morrie is a gifted and much beloved (and unconventional) teacher. The once-every-seventy-five years appearance of Haley’s Comet becomes the focus and is celebrated in an unusual way (you’ll get the reason for the book title).
The story weaves in and out between Paul’s remembrances of that season of his life and his current life as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Montana. Much of the story is written around the one-room school, with Paul reflecting back on that season of his life and how he now as superintendent must make difficult decisions regarding these types of schools, in an era where modern life and conveniences threaten their existence.
But, in the end (and a surprising one it is!), the book is as much about the charm of Morris Morgan… more to come in the next book of the trilogy.
Published in 2006 and first in a trilogy which also includes:
Work Song (2010)
Sweet Thunder (2012)
Quotes from the book:
“Consolidated schools. That is their war cry. Which is to say, do away with one-room schools and put those students to endlessly riding buses to distant towns. Dormitories on wheels…. What is being asked, no, demanded of me is not only the forced extinction of the little schools. It will also slowly kill those rural neighborhoods, the ones that have struggled from homestead days on to adapt to dryland Montana in their farming and ranching…. No schoolhouse to send their children to. No schoolhouse for a Saturday-night dance. No schoolhouse for election day; for the Grange meeting; for the 4-H club; for the quilting bee; for the pinochle tournament; for the reading group; for any of the gatherings that are the bloodstream of community.”
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!