Thursday, July 16, 2015

Last Bus to Wisdom

Title:  Last Bus to Wisdom
Author:  Ivan Doig
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2015. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1594632022 / 978-1594632020

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The town of Gros Ventre was so far from anywhere that you had to take a bus to catch the bus."

Favorite Quote:  "Doubt was eating away at my courage pretty fast."

Ivan Doig was the author of fourteen books, a finalist for the National Book Award, and a winner of the Wallace Stegner Award for his contribution to writings about the west. Last Bus to Wisdom is his final book, soon to be published posthumously. Ivan Doig passed away on April 9, 2015 at the age of 75.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Dr. Doig had this to say about his writing, "I developed an abiding interest in the trait called character and its even more seductive flowering into a plural form, characters.” Last Bus to Wisdom is the only of his works that I have read, but this focus on characters certainly holds true. In two bus rides and an eleven year old boy's story, the book covers a vast array of characters from the Montana Rockies to Wisconsin and back again.

The base of the story is eleven year old Donal Cameron. He is being raised on a ranch by his grandmother, who is the ranch cook. However, she is ill and about to be hospitalized. This character perhaps is a nod to Dr. Doig's own mother, who was a ranch cook and who died when he was only six years old.

Because of her illness, Donal's grandmother. is shipping him off to her sister's home in Wisconsin. By himself. On a bus. The choice is either that or foster care. Kate in Wisconsin is family, no matter how different she may be from her sister.

She packs him clothing, a little money, and a memory book. Donal collects autographs in a memory book. This becomes the anchor for people's stories all through his journey. His interactions with the people he meets almost become character vignettes, all about ordinary people living their lives and doing the best that they can. Along with the characters comes Donal's tall tales about his own background, which "came to me from somewhere, natural as drawing breath."

Wisconsin brings him Aunt Kate, or rather "The Kate", and her husband Herman the German. The transition does not go well for Kate is nothing like her sister. So, after only a couple of eventful weeks, Kate puts him on a bus back to Montana. Imagine his surprise when he finds Herman the German on the bus with him for he too has had enough. This leads to further escapades, as Donal and Herman fall from one misadventure into another. Each adventure introduces a cast of well drawn characters and even more inscriptions in Donal's memory book.

The premise of the book is far-fetched. The adventures Donal gets into are rather tall-tales. Yet, his escapades, the words people write in his memory book, and even his tall tales have me suspending disbelief and smiling throughout. Donal's situation is not one to smile about, but the story has a sweet charm. Somehow, all throughout I believe that things are going to work out for Donal. The slow pace and descriptive nature of the book keeps the focus solely on the characters. More than Donal's precarious situation, the 1950s time frame, the setting of the West, and the quirky characters become the lasting impression of this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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