A Montana family signs on with the New Deal plan to dam the Missouri River in this latest from the author of Heart Earth (LJ 8/93).
As in Doig's Montana trilogy (Dancing at the Rascal Fair, etc.), here American history forms the vivid backdrop for a flinty family drama. Once again, a group of hardheaded, Scotch-descended Montanans struggle with each other and with nature, this time during the building of the Fort Peck Dam from 1933 to 1938. Hugh Duff hasn't spoken to his eldest son, Owen, since the young man abandoned the family farm to study engineering. Owen is hired to oversee Fort Peck's earth fill just as his father learns that the dam will flood their fields. Hugh simmers, but his wife, Meg, and their twin sons, reckless Bruce and sensible Neil, are happy to get jobs on the New Deal project, though Neil asserts his independence by "bucking the sun" (driving into its head-on rays) for his after-hours trucking business. The brothers' wives-Owen's socially ambitious Charlene; her sister Rosellen, an aspiring writer married to Neil; and Bruce's terse, tough-minded Kate-increase the volatility of the Duff family mix of love and loyalty tempering profound differences of personality and belief. Among the other well-drawn characters is Hugh's Marxist brother Darious, a striking portrait of political extremism. Doig's trademark, minutely detailed evocations of physical labor are present here, as is a bravura description of a disastrous collapse of the unfinished dam. The novel is more plot-heavy than Doig's previous work: the mysterious deaths that bookend the main story are contrived, and the narrative often whipsaws among various Duffs. Not quite as magical as English Creek, but much better than the sketchy Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, this is still vintage Doig. Author tour. (May)
John Harvey San Francisco Chronicle Doig has achieved his most adroit blend of fact and fancy in what is perhaps his best book since This House of Sky. What sets Doig apart from others who have farmed the same terrain is the deft way he handles the fruits of his research; fact and anecdote are woven into the text with a light and often humorous touch. Entertainment Weekly Bucking the Sun...derives its narrative energy from as tangled a web of familial and psychosexual rivalries as one is apt to encounter this side of Hamlet or The Brothers Karamazov. Chicago Sun-Times Doig now has to be considered the premier writer of the American West. E. Annie Proulx author of Accordion Crimes and The Shipping News Ivan Doig is one of the best we've got -- a muscular and exceedingly good writer who understands our hunger for stories. David Laskin The Washington Post Bucking the Sun is one of the books that takes you over as you read it, invading your daydreams, lodging its cadences in your brain, summoning you back to the page.