The Whistling Season

Written by Ivan Doig
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

When Paul’s widower father decides to answer an advertisement in the Westwater Gazette (“Can’t cook but doesn’t bite: Housekeeping position sought by widow…salary negotiable but must include railroad fare to Montana locality”), he and his brothers have no idea how much their lives will change. The Milliron family lives at Marias Coulee, where drywater farming is the order of the day. It is autumn, 1909. Paul, the eldest son, is the scholar of the family, and comprises half of the 7th grade local one-room schoolhouse. Paul narrates this beguiling tale of how Rose, the “A-1” housekeeper of the advertisement, and Morrie, her brother who arrives unexpectedly with Rose, fit into the life of the community, and their family. Life for the three boys centers on the schoolhouse, and when the schoolmistress unexpectedly leaves and Morrie is pressed into service, amazing things happen.

Paul narrates this story many years later, when Sputnik has challenged the quality of teaching occurring in America’s schools, especially in those remaining one-room schoolhouses still to be found in less populous areas. Paul Milliron, State Superintendent of Schools – the youngest in the nation when he was first elected – is facing a difficult decision about closing these rural schools. However, the extraordinarily vivid storytelling throws readers headlong into those heady days of 1909 and 1910, without the gap in time dimming or diluting the tale.

This was the first book I’d read by Doig, but I was so enchanted by the Milliron family, Rose and Morrie, the depiction of the local landscape, and the author’s lyrical writing that I’ve already decided on the next book of his that I’ll lose myself in.