The Bartender's Tale
Ivan Doig, The Bartender’s Tale (New York:Riverhead Books, 2012)
Ivan Doig tells stories about land that is familiar to me. His memoir, This House of Sky is so exquisitely penned and so accurate with its place descriptions, that I have found some of his novels to be disappointing. I wasn’t eager to read this book, as it stars up with some of the characters of Bucking the Sun, one of my least favorite of his novels. However a friend loaned me the book and i found it to be engaging. The story is well told and well developed and a bit more believable than its predecessor, in my opinion. Nonetheless there are a couple of details that are distracting. He apparently doesn’t know much about the history of oral history projects, and federal grants to fund such projects. Setting such a project in 1960 is not quite believable. And he knows nothing of the equipment available for tape recording. The Big 7 1/2 inch reel to reel tape recorders available at the time required 110 volt power to operate. There weren’t any practical inverters that could be run off of a VW van in those days. The gasoline generators that were available were hardly portable (and weren’t readily available, even for flood recovery - another historical error in the story). Portable tape recorders were just coming on the scene, using small er reels, needing to be replaced frequently and requiring ridiculous amounts of size D batteries. One model took a dozen batteries. Even a good safari shirt wouldn’t hold all of those batteries in the pockets. And anyone who grew up in Montana should know that tree were no daytime speed limits on open roads in 1960. And anyone who ever traveled in any distance in a VW van wouldn’t describe a moment when the only sound was the whine of the tires. Sigh . . . you have to suspend disbelief to get into the story and the story is a good one. A few less glitches in the details, however, would have mdd it a bit more enjoyable for me.
Ivan Doig fans and others who love good stories will enjoy the book and it rates somewhere near the middle of the many books by Ivan Doig in terms of overall quality. Had he not set the bar so high with previous books, I might not be so slow with my praise. It’s worth a read.