The Whistling Season (Morrie Morgan #1, Two Medicine Country #7) The Whistling Season discussion

Constant Reader

Comments Showing 1-42 of 42 (42 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Let's start discussing this on April 15, 2008.

Dottie Here's an interview with Doig about this book and his writing in general to whet your whistles!

message 3: by Dottie (last edited Apr 15, 2008 05:33PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie WHEN I VISIT THE BACK CORNERS OF MY LIFE AGAIN AFTER so long a time, littlest things jump out first. The oilcloth, tiny blue windmills on white squares, worn to colorless smears at our four places at the table. Our father's pungent coffee, so strong it was almost ambulatory, which he gulped down from suppertine until bedtime and then slept as serenely as a sphinx. The pesky wind, the one element we could count on at Marias Coulee, whistling into some weather-cracked cranny of this house as if invited in.

That opening paragraph with the sentence I've highlighted is all it took to glue me into this story.

A running thread in my family's "story" concerns the strength of my uncle's brewed coffee. The standard line was that it could stand alone without the cup -- so ambulatory coffee seemed only a slightly better description of something with which I was familiar. I already knew I was going to like those four with the eight elbows rubbing the oilcloth into smears -- anyone else remember oilcloth cut to order to fit the table and the occasion it was to pick the new one? I do. It was a measure of the money available if we went past being able to see what the pattern actually had been before a new one was purchased. And the wind -- that is something I "get" after living in Southern California for forty years -- no matter how one thinks the chinks are covered -- those Santa Ana winds can find a way to make the door trim hum like a bad harmonica note at two AM.

Welcome to the discussion -- I couldn't wait any longer -- hope you don't mind my jumping in and ruffling the surface -- wait till it settles a bit and then paint yourself a post -- and I'm not talking fenceposts.

And anyone else notice that first partial phrase being set in all caps? I usually don't think I notice things like that but I'm sure other books have had similar usage of caps or italics -- for some reason that jumped out at me this time.

message 4: by Lynn (last edited Apr 15, 2008 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynn I've read several of Doig's earlier books, starting with Dancing at the Rascal Fair, which my father recommended to me years ago, but this is my favorite by far. I found it to be very evocative of the place and time, and combined humor with serious topics very effectively. Since I live in a state where rural one-room schools have long since succumbed to consolidation (except in the Amish communities), I could really relate to the ending, too. I wanted to stand up and cheer for Paul.


message 5: by Lynn (last edited Apr 15, 2008 08:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lynn This story felt like it had autobiographical influences, so I decided to check out Doig's bio information. Here's some background on him from Wikipedia:
"He was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana to a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. After the death of his mother Berneta, on his sixth birthday, he was raised by his father Charles "Charlie" Doig and his grandmother Elizabeth "Bessie" Ringer." No mention of any Rose, though!

message 6: by Dottie (last edited Apr 15, 2008 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie So much of this seemed deeply heartfelt that it's interesting to find the parallels, Lynn. Many Constant Readers have mentioned Dancing at the Rascal Fair over the years with reference to the group having read and discussed it and I have had it on the TBR that long as a result but never managed to convince myself to pick it up. Having fallen for Doig's work in this one, I'm sure that will be rememdied soon. I felt the same way you did about the ending.

Ruth I enjoyed Dancing at the Rascal Fair, but it didn't leave me wanting to read more Doig. I'm sorry to say I feel the same way about this book. On the one hand it was a beguiling read. On the other, I tired of Doig's propensity for forecasting disasters which never happened. Every posited difficulty was neatly solved.

For instance, Rose wanting all that money up front sent of dozens of red flags, as did her arrival with an unexpected "brother." (I was convinced from the gitgo he wasn't a brother.) There were enough of these false alarms that by the time we got to the Dreaded School Inspector, I'd no doubt that that would all work out okay, too. As it did when the true identities of Rose and Morrie were found out.

That said, there were parts of the book that were beautifully written. The story hummed along. I never tired of the characters. So, for me,not an outstanding read, but a darn good one.

message 8: by Sherry (last edited Apr 16, 2008 04:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Well, I liked it a lot. It was a nice sweet, change of pace for me. I could well imagine it as a movie. I expected Morrie wasn't a brother, either, but I liked how it worked out. It seemed like an homage to someone. Someone that Doig wanted to write for and didn't want to upset too much. I appreciated not being upset by a book, but made to smile and want to know more about the very real people.

Dottie My first thought on Morrie's unannounced appearance was -- the wido isn't a widow -- uh-oh. And Doig supported that when Morrie moved into the teacher's house somewhat -- I liked the little bit of question us and the way it subtly influenced where the story went.

message 10: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth My first hunch was that they were a pair of charlatans on the lam, which they more or less were. But I was disturbed by the fact that Rosie kept wheedling more money out of the dad. Why did Doig emphasize that so if nothing more was to be made of it?


Melissa I don't have an answer for Ruth's question about Rose and her need for money, other than that it served the simple function of underlining the nearness to poverty and failure of both employer and employee.

In general I agree with most parts of what others have already said.

I got a good sense of place, a place I've never been, though my wife's from Colorado and Wyoming so I've seen those big empty prairies, not too far from Montana, in view of the snowcapped mountains.

I found the ending a bit rushed and pat, not that I necessarily wanted the story to go to a different place, but the latter revelations of Rose and Morrie's identities seemed held until very late in the game and the implications on the new marriage were left oddly unexamined.

There was some tension in the visit of the Dreaded Inspector, and the secret Comet Night celebration, and one wondered all the time whether Morrie had any college (clearly not Jale/Yale, but probably not U of Chicago either?). He struck me as a classic autodidact, an impression apparently vindicated by his identity switch.

But as Ruth says, none or virtually none of the threats or dangers actually came to pass, including the repeated alarm of the trapper.

Melissa My preferred reading of the story is that all of 1909-1910 was actually a vivid dream of the 1957 Superintendant Milliron.

I have no evidence to offer for this theory, just that I like it better than a straight reading.

Beth A. I agree with Ruth. I enjoyed reading this book, but I probably wouldn't seek out another book by Doig. I enjoyed the story and his use of language.

I do have two questions though. How do you say Doig?

And I must have missed something, usually I can figure this out, but... Why is it called The Whistling Season?

Dottie It seemed to me there were several possibilities offered as the basis for the title. For one there was that wind which found its way into the house through some cracked corner as mentioned in the opening paragraph, for another there were the whistling swans which were mentioned at one point in the story and finally there is Rose's sotto voce whistling which pervades their lives through that first year with her. I come down firmly with the last of the three. Her whistling becomes a recurring thread and a gauge of where things might be headed as they work their way through the story offered from the memories/musings as Paul roams about the house and the school in 1957.

Beth A. Thank you, Dottie.

Barbara I just sat back and enjoyed this. Poorly written books distract me, making me feel distant from the characters and plot. I always felt immersed in this and really didn't stop to wonder much about Rose and Morrie, once they arrived and showed their humanity. My favorite parts were the interactions among the brothers. They were each such distinct little personalities. In a populated suburban community, they would be off with their own little group and only connecting sporadically at home. In their isolation in the country, they found ways to accomodate and respect each other.

I liked it that no one came to a great deal of harm because I knew that this dry-land farming was going to disappear after the irrigation project succeeded and times were going to get tougher. I wanted them to make it through this period in relative good humor. It reminded me of something I read about the musical "Oklahoma." At the end, the characters all feel an unlimited sense of potential. But, we all know that the dust bowl is coming and everything that we read about in The Grapes of Wrath with replace all of that optimism.

Melissa That's a great point, Barb, I certainly noticed all the poignant references to dryland farming.

I also like your observation about how much insight we got into the interplay of the brothers (though of course always from Paul's big-brother point of view).

Paul also showed a lot of awareness (in his way back reveries, anyway) of his dependence on his brother (Damon was it? sorry, I mean the one he usually shared a bed with) in several parts of their life - confronting bullies, dealing with nightmares, etc.

Rose offered Paul his first experience of an adult-like autonomy in those early morning whispered conversations.

Kathy I haven't commented yet because this is the first book I've read with this group and I wanted to see how things worked.

I agree that the writing was not distracting. I thought the brothers were well-rendered. The historical representations rang true. Still, I was left wanting more. Upon finishing, all I could think to say was "cute."

It reminded me of a game we played as kids, someone gives you a list of items and it's your job to work them all into a story. I think Doig had too many items that didn't really work in his story, but he used them all anyway.

I don't plan on reading any more Doig.

Kathy L.

message 19: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Dottie,
I've already returned the book to the friend who lent it to me, but didn't the kids all whistle the music at the program for the comet? Hence, the "whistling season." After reading this book, I really regret that I didn't pay more attention to that comet during my own once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was funny and sweet, with beautifully written descriptions - quite an unusual combination these days.

Dottie I had the idea they were going to whistle also during the secretive lead-up to the big night but they played harmonicas I believe. Did I dream that or did they actually do it? My copy is already back at the library so I'm unable to verify my thought.

message 21: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth You're right, Dottie, it was harmonicas.


message 22: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Yes, Ruth and Dottie, you are absolutely correct. Sorry for muddying the waters.


Dottie Mud? I don't see any mud anywhere, Ann. Glad we got it figured out -- I really wasn't sure I remembered it correctly. I think my mind was going too m any directions as I read the last part of this -- maybe I also started putting on the brakes and not wanting to get to the end.

Melissa That's interesting, Dottie, because I had a similar experience toward the end of the book, had trouble keeping my focus. I thought maybe it was my being tired, but I ended up reading the last couple of chapters twice. The story seemed to be rushing to its conclusion and pulling some 'deus ex machina' stunts.

But I did enjoy the book, including most of the characters. The details about Minneapolis seemed true to life as well.

Mary Anne I was really taken by a sense of place in this book. To me, the locale was so vivid that it seemed to be a significant character. In that regard, Doig reminded me of Stegner.

Also, I'm glad Ann mentioned the comet, because I thought that aspect of the story was critical. Without TV or street lights or other distractions, the sighting of the comet in 1910 must have been tremendously dramatic, ominous, and otherwise compelling to all who experienced it. The same comet in our lifetimes would pale by comparison. I can imagine that some actually did go a bit mad after weeks of meteoric displays.

message 26: by Dottie (last edited Apr 18, 2008 08:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie Doig absolutely made this reader fall in love with Montana as it certainly became a character in his story, MAP. I could feel -- and react to the changes in the weather from season to season.

Philip -- I think you may be correct in one sense that it seemed to be rushing to a finish but in another, it was as though the anxiety concerning the inspector's visit and the high anticipation of the comet were intentionally tripping over each other to build the suspense about what would happen afterward. It was the end of the year, Morrie and Rose would decide something it was clear -- and the decisions were threaded carefully onto the two tightly woven threads of the inspector and the comet it seemed to me. Maybe it was just the tension flowing around all these various parts which made the end seem to be hurrying on at such a pace.

Barbara As I said in my last note, I loved reading this book. However, I feel like I have this constant lament about endings. Once again, the ending didn't seem real to me. I couldn't imagine that Paul would be able to keep quiet about Rose and Morrie's background to his father. It felt wrong for him to do so. And, I didn't think that Paul was a person who would keep that secret. Doig did lay the background throughout the book for his conclusion. I give him credit for that. I hate books that just spring an ending with no connection to what went before. And, I know that Paul and Damon took pride in keeping secrets among themselves, the old spit handshake. But, no matter how much he liked Rose, I don't think he would have kept this one--particularly her relationship with Morrie.

message 28: by Dottie (last edited Apr 19, 2008 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie It made me a bit squirmy for the reasons you point out but as they worked their way to the decision, I went along with them and decided to spit on the palm of my hand along with them, so to speak. I could see that somewhere in the years between 1909/1910 and 1957 that the whole family sat down and talked things out in the open. I don't think the father would have been surprised about it nor do I think he might even have known more than they were all thinking he knew. That's my spin on it at least.

message 29: by Ruth (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth I agree with what you said about the ending, Barb. It seemed a bit much of a reach to get to "and they all lived happily every after."

And Dottie, I think you're right, too. I can't believe the father didn't have an inkling. I think he must have had some idea, he was an intelligent man. But I also think he didn't/wouldn't care.

It would have been interesting to see the dynamic between Rose & the father after their marriage, and if the truth ever came out, spoken or unspoken.

For that matter, I'd have liked to have seen a little more of the dynamics between the two BEFORE the marriage. Right from the gitgo there was the expectation that these two would hook up. And they did. I'd have liked to see a little more of the developing relationship, so that we had more of a feel for it. Perhaps that would have made the ending more believable.


message 30: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane I loved this book from start to finish, and I loved all of the characters. I think that Doig captures the atmosphere of the times. Ruth, you mentioned that the impending disasters were not really disasters, but they probably seemed like it at the time. This was a simpler time when people weren't used to watching people kill each other on TV. My mother was from Wyoming and my father was from a poor farming family in Indiana. My mother used to say that there are two seasons in Wyoming, July and winter. She also said that the wind blew all of the time, and I am sure that it is the same in Montana. Recently I was back in Indiana cleaning out some family papers and photos. I found a notebook that my grandfather kept from 1928 - 1930. Grandpa was a tenant farmer and received $40 a month to work for another farmer for six days a week. During the summer, my uncle and my father would work and sometimes get a dollar extra for the family. On one page,Grandpa lists expenses for my father: overshoes - $3.95, overalls - 1.19, money - .50, gloves - .40. As Barb says, times were tough and they got tougher in the 30's. This is one of the reasons why this book was so close to my heart. It seemed to capture a time of innocence that really did exist at one time in our country.


Sherry What a treasure that notebook is, Jane. And I agree with you about the book. I think the innocence was refreshing. And it wasn't all innocence, there was the boxing scandal and the Morrie and Rose affair. But I can believe it was covered up, and stayed that way. There are so many skeletons in family closets. And some people really can keep secrets.

message 32: by Ruth (last edited Apr 21, 2008 08:31AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth I enjoyed the sense of place, and the relative innocence, too, Jane. Unlike you, I have absolutely no experience with that kind of life, but Doig put me right there.

I think you misunderstood me, though. It wasn't that the heavily foreshadowed "disasters" were for simple things that bothered me. It was that he'd build up all this tension over something bad that looked like it was going to happen, and then, poof, it was resolved handily. If it had happened that way once, or even twice, I wouldn't have been uncomfortable, but it happened again and again. I'm reminded of Chekov's comment about the gun in the drawer in the first act.

message 33: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Ruth,

I think that we are viewing this particular year in the life of the Milliron family through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Paul, and to him these things were a big deal. That is why there is so much build up. I remember being that way myself at 13. Everything was a disaster waiting to happen. I also think that Paul took life seriously and felt responsible for his family since there was no mother to look after them.

I was amused by the fact that it never occurred to the "men" in the family that one of them should learn to cook. That was unheard of in those days I guess. My father is of a later generation, but he never cooked a thing in his life. When he was working in remote areas of the world, he always hired a cook.

I really loved the backwards horseback race. The children of the school so looked forward to it that they didn't breathe a word to their parents.

I am going to nominate this book for our in-person book group. I look forward to reading it again.


message 34: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen I agree that Doig creates a wonderful sense of place. As a Northeasterner, I was amazed by the idea that children rode horses to school! And I could picture the great steam shovel towering over the landscape for the Big Dig (remember the Big Dig in "Angle of Repose"?)

But the book was, otherwise, a disappointment. That the book was told by a man looking back at the events of his early adolescence does not excuse, for me, the problems with the plot, noted by others: Barbara expressed perfectly the weakness of the ending and I agree wholeheartedly with Ruth that Doig introduced multiple guns in the early acts, and nary a one fired. Many excellent books are told by an adult looking back at his or her childhood -- such as "Bridge of Sighs," which we just discussed here. ("David Copperfield" also comes to mind.)

I also had problems with the character of Rose. Doig gave her lots of quirks, but didn't develop her character. We learn that she is charming, intuitive, manipulative (how well she communicated with Paul and wrapped him about her little finger...and how helpful that was for her later!) and devious. By the end of the book, I heartily disliked her. Knowing how she misled Oliver even while charming him into that marriage proposal made me doubt that anything she did was genuine. I don't see a happy future for her and Oliver. Especially not for Oliver.

Finally, I agree that Doig did a poor job of developing the relationship between Oliver and Rose. Initially, when Oliver told his boys that he would never marry again, since no one could measure up to their mother, I thought "good! He's not going for the obvious ending here. No 'Sarah Plain and Tall!'" It was a disappointment when, in the end, he took the path of least resistance, rather poorly. (I also thought Paul's plan to avoid the closing of the 1-room schools was rather hurried and confusing. The confusion may have been a reflection of my reading -- by that time I was tired of the book and reading quickly.)

In the end, I thought this was a cute little book that missed an opportunity to be a much better one.

Mary Ellen

message 35: by Anne (new)

Anne I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I've read several Doig books, and this ranks up pretty high. (Can't remeber details of the others, they were many years ago, but I did love Dancing at the Rascal Fair and English Creek.)

I thought this would make a good movie, too. The ending did not satisfy me. In fact, I felt maybe it should have ended with the harmonica concert on comet night. The rest of the story tied up too neatly, but I won't hold it against him. I never felt the romantic tension build up between Rose and the dad; never felt I really knew Rose. But Paul as a child may not have been aware of romance (though he seemed darn savvy about everything else!) And, in 1910, single dads weren't in vogue, so maybe romance was not that important?

Anyway, I was swept away by this book, flaws and all.


Did "whistling season" have anything to do with the whistler swans Paul mentions a time or two?

message 36: by Mary Ellen (new)

Mary Ellen I think this would make a good movie, too, Anne. Would the book have been better -- sharper, in a way -- if it had ended with comet night? And had it not been framed by Paul's "present" dilemma regarding the funding of the schools?

Mary Ellen

Dottie Aw, you made some excellent points -- the one about the fact that life was much more difficult in reality than the book lets us see is likely all too true. for example.

As for the one room schools -- yes, they didn't and don't have the resources for modern education in certain areas certainly BUT -- and for me as a teacher at heart -- this is the big thing -- there is the socialization which Doig got righit in both the good and the bad aspects AND there is the interaction among levels which I believe is one key element which if addressed properly and without too many rules and regulations might in fact be one factor in rescuing our educastional system as it goes further and further down the drain in failing our young people today. And people like Paul did show up and did get attention and often they got access to resources far bey9ond what we can offer in even the better scools today at those levels. They also found mentors -- as Paul found Morrie. And as for that Morrie -- well -- what a mixed character and we've all certainly met our share of those. Actually, aren't all humans a bit like that -- good and bad and ugly lumped into a package?

As for Oliver -- I think he knew far more than we were told he knew -- Paul didn't necessarily know what his father was aware of concerning Rose and the past events in my opinion. I found the Oliver and Rose scenario fitting gvien the isolation and the times, but I think Oliver knew far more than anyone including Doig's readers about the woman -- we only kn ew what Paul saw and heard and interpreted back to us. Which leads us to those "pretnaturally precocious children of yore" which you mentioned -- Steve -- they've never left us -- and many of those "best and brightest" which is modern phrase which I loathe are the very ones our modern and more modern resources are failing most miserably. I didn't read the framing as indicating the one-room school house being superior -- just as giving recognition that there were also positives which could arise in those situations as well as in the more modern schools.

Anyway -- I'm glad you chimed in here, ya hear?

message 38: by Ruth (last edited Apr 29, 2008 10:49AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ruth I think your points are well taken, Steve.
Altho I don't think I'd write quite such a grumpy note. The novel was an enjoyable, if not deep, read.

As for the dream deal--that kind of thing is the resort of what I might call "lower level" writers. If you can't work it into the story in a real way, throw it into a dream, then dreams being what they are, nobody can dispute it.

As for life in Montana, and one-room schools, I defer to those who know something about them.

Dottie Well, I wasn't actually thinking of the dearth of choice and so on -- but there is that factor also. I was thinking more along the lines of custom in such settings and in earlier times -- such a setting as that in TWS would have lagged further on the changing curve of customary societal procedures. I was thinking back to times when if a wife died and there were children the man married ASAP and oftentimes perhaps to someone whose life might not bear too close inspection as Rose's somewhat questionable period prior to the ad placement.

The dreams didn't bother me much -- I believed their import for Paul and their strength as he told them. I'm not clear on the particular one you are referencing and can't check it out as I have no copy of the book now. There ARE people who have dreams which seem to tell them things -- we all know that and some can go along with the concept while others can't. I tend to be one who can go along having had some very unsettling experiences with dreams and other occurrences in my personal set of life experiences which when I tell them to selected people sound completely wacky to one part of my own brain even as I tell them. I can't explain them but I believe them because I experienced them -- I KNOW what happened and what I felt/saw/heard. When I hear/read such things, how can I not cut the necessary slack to the speaker/author of same?

Ruth, my own one-room schoolhouse knowledge comes at second hand from my mother's stories and from my father-in-law's stories of his family's experiences, but the bearing of that knowledge on what a classroom is or could be looms in my own ideas on what a classroom should be and can be under the right circumstances. Thus my comments on that aspect of this book.

Barbara I had the same thoughts about life being a bit harder than was described, Steve. My parents grew up in rural Nebraska. My father's family was never-getting-enough-to-eat poor and the stories he told, when I could get them out of him, were bone chilling. I just kept thinking that maybe Doig's parents were doing a bit better than my Dad's, particularly since he had the extra income from the irrigation dig. And, Doig grew up in Montana, I believe. Maybe some of this reflects his experience.

My mother taught in a one room schoolhouse. I wish I knew more about her thoughts concerning it.

message 41: by Melissa (last edited Apr 30, 2008 05:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Melissa I spent first grade in a modified one-room school house (eight grades, they put the first four in the basement). Each grade had a row of its own; we first graders numbered five or six. The good parts included the socialization mentioned above, and for me anyway the chance to listen to the lessons given the older grades.

My sister was in the second grade and I did their work too, a way to deal with the tedium. Our basement teacher was unlicensed and had not completed a college degree, like Morrie (I suspect) in the book, but unlike the man who taught grades five through eight upstairs in the main room.

My mother and a neighbor lady were elected to the school board with the result that the school was closed and our little independent district was merged into the nearby town's system. The building, a sturdy structure of brick and stone, has since housed law offices and more recently a beauty parlor.

Dottie Thanks, Steve, we'll have to talk over this concept one day over that drink you promised me years ago in my early days on CR. Maybe if I ever get to a convention at the same time you do?

back to top