Reviews for Bartender's Tale


Booklist Reviews 2012 August #1
*Starred Review* If we were to expand the definition of the traditional western to include historical fiction about the American West, then Doig's acclaimed body of work would fit squarely within the genre's redefined borders. His latest stars Tom Harry, owner and chief barkeep (a classic western archetype) of a saloon called Medicine Lodge in Gros Ventre, Montana, which itself lies in the heart of Doig's version of Yoknapatawpha County, the Two Medicine country, which straddles the Continental Divide in northern Montana and is the setting for many of the author's best novels (including English River, 1985). Tom's story, narrated by his precocious, 12-year-old son, Rusty, begins in 1960 but quickly flashes back to the Depression, when Harry ran another bar at the site of the Fort Peck dam construction (the subject of Doig's Bucking the Sun, 1996). Tom and Rusty enjoy an unconventional but loving and mutually supportive relationship until Proxy, a dancer Tom knew at Fort Peck, and her hippie daughter, Francine, show up, with Proxy claiming that Francine is Tom's child. A reunion of dam workers draws all the principals back to Fort Peck, where past and present collide. Rusty's coming-of-age drama is involving and subtly portrayed, but Doig fans will be especially drawn to the set-pieces that surround the action: a fishing contest, a mudslide, a trip to a brewery, and, most of all, daily life at the saloon, including a delightful seminar on pouring a beer ("For without a basic good glass of beer, properly drawn and presented, a saloon was merely a booze trough"). It's that kind of detail that has made Doig essential reading for anyone who cares about western literature. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Doig rarely hits best-seller lists, but he has a strong, devoted readership, especially in libraries, and his books are book-club naturals. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 2012 August #1
His father's past both unsettles and entices Rusty Harry in Doig's latest loving portrait of Montana and its crusty inhabitants (Work Song, 2010, etc.). Some of Doig's best work (English Creek, 1984; The Whistling Season, 2006) has been narrated by young adolescents; the inquisitive perspective of boys puzzling out adult ways seems to suit an author with a sharp eye for the revealing particulars of everyday human behavior. Twelve-year-old Rusty is no exception, and the air vent in the back room of his father Tom's saloon, the Medicine Lodge, gives him an earful of grown-up goings-on in the town of Gros Ventre. But it's outsiders who really stir things up in the summer of 1960. First to arrive is Zoe, daughter of the local restaurant's new owners, who quickly becomes Rusty's best friend and, after they see a vividly described outdoor production of As You Like It, his fellow aspiring thespian. Next is Delano Robertson, an oral historian who wants Tom to help him gather reminiscences at the forthcoming reunion of workers from the New Deal's Fort Peck dam project--a period in his past the bartender does not seem anxious to recollect. We learn why (readers of Bucking the Sun, 1996, will already have guessed) at the reunion, where Tom is stunned by the appearance of Proxy, a taxi dancer at the wide-open bar he ran back then, who announces the existence of a daughter from their one-time fling. Disheveled Francine needs a refuge and a profession, so Tom agrees to let her learn his trade at the Medicine Lodge, while Rusty anxiously wonders if Proxy might be his long-gone mother. Doig expertly spins out these various narrative threads with his usual gift for bringing history alive in the odysseys of marvelously thorny characters. Possibly the best novel yet by one of America's premier storytellers. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 July #1

The year is 1960, and the protagonist at the center of this "bartender's tale" is Tom Harry, a beloved, no-nonsense bartender in Gros Ventre, MT, a sleepy town in remote northern sheep country. Tom is also a single father working long hours, trying to raise his 12-year-old son, Rusty, in this enjoyable, old-fashioned, warmhearted story about fathers and sons, growing up, and big life changes. Rusty is the narrator of the novel, and Doig (The Whistling Season) brings the young man's voice and perspective skillfully to life here. Rusty is puzzled by most of what he sees in the adult world, and there is little he can be sure of, except the love of his father. Doig poignantly captures the charm and pathos of Rusty's efforts to understand this complicated and often baffling adult world. Doig is famous for celebrating the American West, and he also beautifully captures the cadences and details of daily life in this Montana town. VERDICT Recommended for fans of generous, feel-good novels. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12]--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

[Page 74]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
In the early 60s this kid named Rusty (or something like that. I'm just going to make up names as I go) is 12 and living in semi-misery with his aunt in Phoenix but then WHOOOOOSH! his Pop comes and whisks him back to Montana. While Pop works tending bar at the Medicine Lodge, Johnny mooches about in the back room with comic books, model planes, and his imagination. Though he doesn't say it, Billy feels "found"; indeed, as he develops from larvae to grub, his personality overwhelmingly manifests a need for stability. And while Spanky's whole journey is likeable and he's a super kid and it's heartwarming to see hearty male-centric bonding, readers are going to get impatient because it is crawlingly slow. Are we going somewhere? If so, will that be, like, today? When this chick Proxy and her kid Francine lay claim to a surprise post-halftime plot development, it gets complicated for young Jimmy. With passages such as, "Any kid is a master spy until that talent meets itself in the mirror during the teen years and turns hopelessly inward…" this isn't exactly sentimental but definitely tends toward the dewey-eyed side of the spectrum (it's "hindsight-driven," shall we say). A coming-of-ager in which life is black-and-white-not-grey will appeal to those who insist, "Ah, but life was simple then." -- Douglas Lord, "Books for Dudes" LJ Reviews 10/4/12 (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 June #2

The summer of 1960 stretches wide in Doig's highly textured and evocative new novel, which returns to Work Song and The Whistling Season's Two Medicine County, Mont. After living half his life in Phoenix, Ariz., with his aunt, 12-year-old Russell "Rusty" Harry comes back to the tiny town of Gros Ventre to live with his father, Tom, the owner of a popular saloon. Rusty's mother has been gone since she and Tom "split the blanket" 12 years ago. Rusty entertains himself in the cavernous back room, which Tom operates like a pawnshop, taking in all manner of miscellany so sheepherders, ranchers, and others can pay for their drinks. When a local cafe comes under new ownership, 12-year-old Zoe Constantine shows up and soon becomes Rusty's partner in crime in the backroom, listening to the bar through a concealed air vent. It's a summer of change and new arrivals, as Delano Robertson, from Washington, D.C., comes to Gros Ventre to record the "Missing Voices" of America, followed by the mysterious and sultry Proxy Duff and her 21-year-old daughter, Francine, who both claim a special connection to Tom. Filtering the world through Rusty's eyes, Doig gives us a poignant saga of a boy becoming a man alongside a town and a bygone way of life inching into the modern era. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (Aug.)

[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC

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