Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Thoughts - Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig

Prairie Nocturne by Ivan Doig
published 2003
audiobook - read by Scott Sowers

Synopsis from publisher -

Susan Duff — the bossy, indomitable schoolgirl with a silver voice from the pages of Doig's most popular work, Dancing at the Rascal Fair — has reached middle age alone, teaching voice lessons to the progeny of Helena's high society. Wesley Williamson — business scion of a cattle-empire family — has fallen from the heights of gubernatorial aspirations, forced out of a public career by political foes who uncovered his love affair with Susan. Years later, Susan is taken off guard when Wes arrives at her door with an unusual request: to train his chauffeur, Monty, in the ways of voice and performance.

Prairie Nocturne is the saga of these three people and their interlocked destinies. Monty is distantly known to Susan from their childhoods in the Two Medicine country, yet an enforced stranger because of the racial divide. When she realizes he possesses a singing voice of rare splendor, Susan joins Wes's Pygmalion-like project to launch Monty on a performing career — only to find the full force of the Ku Klux Klan in their way. As Monty and Susan overcome treacherous obstacles, Wes's mysterious motives unsettle everyone, including himself, and the trio's crossed fates form a deeply longitudinal novel that raises everlasting questions of allegiance, the grip of the past, and the costs of career and passion.

My thoughts -

This was a completely random selection - I think it was offered free at or something, and so I decided, "Why not?" I didn't know anything about the author, and I'm certainly not an expert in Montana history. Now that I am finished, I have fallen a little bit in love with the sweeping Montana landscape, and with an author whose work I truly did not expect.

I understand that this is not Doig's first novel about this location, or some of these characters, and I would have to assume that helps give the feeling that he is, in fact, intimately acquainted with this world. He writes his characters as if they are his neighbors and friends, and it allows the reader to feel that sense of kinship with the almost immediately. They are frustrating, and insensitive, and funny, and compelling, and interesting, and heartbreaking. Doig left me desperately wanting to know more.

I think the biggest obstacle this novel will have for many readers is that it's pacing can be, at times, S L O W. I would imagine that, had I been reading a print copy, I would have considered setting it aside at least once, but listening always seems to allow me to have more patience. Doig's novel is much like the nocturne of it's title, that he has Susan explain early in the novel -

"A nocturne, she wouldn't be surprised: ruminative, tending toward melancholy - after all, the poor things are no longer the freshest notes in the musical arrangement, are they - yet with a serenade melody that would not leave the mind."

Doig's writing was simply beautiful, and it will not leave my mind. His love for Montana is clear and clean, and it won me over. Listening to his words was a pleasure. I don't have a lot to say about the narrator - he didn't leave a great impression on me. Perhaps that shows his quality, that he was able to let the novel shine without making a mark on it.

My only true issue with this novel is that it ends in such a bad spot - how could Doig take us that far with Susan, Monty, and Wes, and then just stop writing?? Argh. I know there are novels that preceed this in the story of these characters - I sure hope there are novels after it, because I NEED to know what happens next. 

I truly enjoyed this novel. It won't be for everyone, as the pacing can be a bit slow, but I was completely captivated and can't wait to read more by this author. Highly recommended.

Finished - 1/31/13
Source - audiobook from
MPAA rating - R for violence, adult situations
My rating - 8/10

1 comment:

Shirley Iverson said...

I really think you need to become charmed and addicted to Ivan Doig. You deserve to read more and more of his exquisite books!