'The music of men's lives'

  • Anaconda Company smelter, Butte, Montana.

    FSA/OWI
 

Work Song
Ivan Doig
288 pages, hardcover: $25.95.
Riverhead Books, 2010.

"My train journey had brought me across the Montana everyone thinks of, mile upon hypnotic mile of rolling prairie with snowcapped peaks in the distance, and here, as sudden and surprising as a lost city of legendary times, was a metropolis of nowhere. ..." In his latest work of historical fiction, Ivan Doig focuses on itinerant teacher Morrie Morris, a charming character who appeared in his earlier novel, The Whistling Season.

Morrie steps off the train in post-WWI Butte, Mont., the copper-mining capital of the world, hoping to make a living as a bookkeeper for the Anaconda Company. He takes a room at a boarding house but soon finds that the "richest hill on earth" is as politically unstable as it is physically dangerous. Quickly abandoning the notion of working for The Man, he becomes entangled with the union instead. Soon he's working at the public library under the supervision of a gruff former cattleman who goes by the moniker Earl of Hell.

With tensions between the company goons and rabble-rousing Wobbly agitators spiraling out of control, the union desperately needs to boost the morale of its 10,000 or so miners. The tale unfolds like a classic David-and-Goliath confrontation, describing how a fractured community slowly comes together.

The plot keeps the book humming along, but it's Doig's masterful prose that makes it memorable. Here's his description of a fidgety boy nicknamed Russian Famine: "Skinny as the sticks of kindling in the woodbox ... in dusty patched pants and a hand-me-down shirt," he zips around the city "gaunt as an unfed greyhound." The mass of Wobblies and their foes are sometimes sadly one-dimensional, but the individual characters live and breathe.

Doig's prose is old-fashioned, almost Dickensesque, and it gives the book a big heart. His world stands like a well-built wooden table, sturdy and beautiful, without need of ornamentation. From the onset the reader feels convinced that nothing too terrible will happen, and yet the lack of mayhem does not cause the story to lose its shine. History buffs, lovers of fine prose, and anyone after a solid and finely crafted story will enjoy this novel.  

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.