I do sometimes choose a book by the cover or the title, or both, and goodness, do I love it when that works out. Case in point: By the time I was halfway through “Prairie Nocturne,” I’d texted my mom, Tara, and two friends to tell them to read it.
I concede the dubious quality of this early endorsement. When there’s that much book left, there’s a 50-50 chance that the plot is going to go south. But, I read primarily for character, and there I was willing to take a chance on it.
I feel like I’m constantly saying “I read for character!”, and here we go again, but in my defense, it’s a fairly new revelation in my four decades of reading* — fresh enough to still make me marvel at how true it is. And, all the possible bonus character points go to a book in which the geography is as much a character as the characters are.
“Prairie Nocturne” checked my boxes; I texted people.
Then it had a minute when I was pretty sure I was going to have to retract.
Of course it did.
So I slowed down, only reading over my breakfasts for a few days, and digging a little more into the other book I’m reading, which is more time-consuming and a really slow read if one wants to actually absorb it. And then, sweet relief, the “Prairie Nocturne” plot didn’t do what I anticipated, but instead something completely different, and I finally just stopped everything else and read the rest of it.
Is my house a complete mess? Yes. Is my work caught up? Erm, not quite, but not bad, really, considering the variability of freelancing. Do my kids feel neglected? I mean, always. They always want more of me than I actually possess.
Character development is so key — in this case, Susan; and Angus, Wes, and Monty; and Montana, where the mountains meet the prairie. Most believable: Angus. Favorite: Susan, which is particularly fortunate since she is the voice. Pretty fantastic tertiary character: JJ. Minor player: New York City.
Later in the book, the plot again took a turn — but by then it impressed me as a combination of predictable and yet not what I planned to be reading, and while I’m not convinced the characters as so finely established would have behaved exactly that way in real life, it was still fine. Realizing that it’s a 20-year-old novel set between the world wars keeps me from resigning it to the dust heap of mere social commentary.
Ivan Doig‘s skill with language was astonishing. There were minutes in the book that all I wanted to do was bathe in the way he used and combined words to tell exactly the story he was telling. Plus, his research is spot on, and the copy editing is flawless.
Luckily for me, he has more books, including a trilogy that includes some of the same characters, plus a memoir and some nonfiction.
Yes. Go ye and read.
*Holy criminitly, does that ever make “Marvin K. Mooney” and his bureau drawer seem like a long time ago.