Dec 15, 2016

Sweet Thunder, by Ivan Doig

When you hear the phrase "writer of the West," your mind probably jumps immediately to John Steinbeck, deservedly so. But there is another author who writes the West brilliantly, albeit in a very different fashion: Ivan Doig. Doig's milieu is the rugged cowboy West, the West of Idaho and Montana and Wyoming, rather than the sun-soaked Central Valley West or rain-soaked coastal California West of Steinbeck. Doig's characters invariably display an approachable erudition, a homesteader's know-how, and gumption to spare. These are the backs upon which were built the farmlands that feed America, and the gold mines that made her rich. Doig's writing is incredibly smart, with a nearly-British cadence that no doubt contributes to my admiration. As a bookseller, Doig is my go-to for that certain fiction reader who wants smart without snobbish, excitement without lurid details.

Sweet Thunder follows a certain Morris Morgan, learned as an Ivy Leaguer with a rather colorful past that (of course) comes back to bite. Morgan and his wife live in Butte, Montana, home to the massive copper mines that are helping to electrify the nation - the year is 1920, by the way. Morgan is tapped to write scathing editorials of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, which makes obscene profits while paying next to nothing in taxes and endangering the lives of their workers with horrible conditions while paying them a pittance. The Thunder, as the new newspaper is called, is meant to work in concert with a newly elected state senator to right these economic wrongs. But a company that big and wealthy doesn't go down without a fight...

While it's not my favorite Doig novel - Whistling Season takes that title for me - this is still an utter pleasure to read. Funny, exciting, smart, it's just a darn fine book, especially on these wet, winter nights.

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