cover image The Bartender’s Tale

The Bartender’s Tale

Ivan Doig. Riverhead, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59448-735-4

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.)