Susan Duff and Wesley Williamson share a past romance and the landscape of their youth. By 1924, ten years have smoothed the rougher edges from their awkward breakup. So when Wes seeks Susan’s assistance to help out another old friend, she sees it as an opportunity to both make money and complete her unfinished operetta in the familiar setting of the Two Medicine country of rural Montana.
The project is Montgomery Rathbun, a ranch hand at the Williamson family’s enormous ranch, the Double W. Monty, who is black, has a promising voice, the type that any music teacher would love to train. They settle into their roles as teacher and student, appropriately chaperoned by another ranch hand. But they don’t escape the harsh eye of prejudice. Courting scandal is nothing new to Susan. But this time the price is higher than ever before.
This novel explores the idea of boundaries. Boundaries can be physical, such as the fences that separate property. But more often, as seen in this novel, they are more personal. We are held in check by our emotions, by societal pressures, by our moral codes, and sometimes by secrets from the past to which others hold the keys. How we maintain these barriers, or steer around them, reveals our strength and our weakness.
Ivan Doig is a remarkable storyteller. His prose is both rich and restrained. He possesses the talent and wit to let well-chosen words and quiet imagery speak volumes as his story moves from the weathered, isolated plains to the vibrant hustle of city life. Using flashbacks, he gives the reader insight into earlier events that shape his characters’ actions. (This includes events from two previous novels, Dancing at the Rascal Fair and English Creek.) This novel will surely be remembered as one of the year’s best.