Ivan Doig, the award-winning author of sixteen books, died at his Seattle home in the early morning hours of Thursday, April 9, 2015, of multiple myeloma. During the eight years of his illness, he wrote his four final novels, including Last Bus to Wisdom
, which will be published on August 18, 2015. He was seventy-five.
Born in 1939, Doig grew up along the Rocky Mountain front. A former ranch hand, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University and later went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. For a few years he pursued a career in journalism, but it was book writing that drew him. Doig believed that ordinary people deserve to have their stories told, and he did that in fact and fiction, beginning with This House of Sky
, a memoir of his own upbringing in Montana; it attracted a wide readership and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He later wrote a second memoir, Heart Earth
, and another book of nonfiction, but it is for his novels that he became enduringly read. An early novel, The Sea Runners
, told the story of four indentured servants escaping Russian Alaska in the mid-nineteenth century. With English Creek
, in 1984, Doig introduced the Two Medicine Country, an imagined region based upon the Montana landscape where he came of age. That novel also introduced the McCaskill clan, who reappeared in the two that followed, Dancing at the Rascal Fair
and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana,
the trilogy spanning a century of Montana history. The world he’d created endured– the Two Medicine Country is the setting for the majority of his novels – as did the habit of plucking characters from previous novels and reintroducing them sometimes several books – and in fictional terms, several decades – down the road. The 2006 novel The Whistling Season
, a New York Times
bestseller, about a mail-order housekeeper who comes west to work for a widower and his motherless sons, debuted a favorite character, Morrie Morgan, an itinerant charmer who subsequently appeared in two further novels, Work Song
(2010) and Sweet Thunder
(2013), his misadventures drawing Doig’s settings south to Butte, Montana, and the conflicts between the behemoth Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the beleaguered miners in the early part of the twentieth century.
Two late novels, The Bartender’s Tale
(2012) and the yet-to-be-published Last Bus to Wisdom,
come as close to autobiography as Doig ever got in his fiction, in that they were inspired by circumstances out of his childhood: his father’s habit of taking Doig along as a boy to the saloons where he liked to hire on haying crews in the first case, and in the second, an episode where Doig, who lost his mother at the age of six and was raised by his father and his ranch cook grandmother, was sent east to Wisconsin for a summer when both adults encountered medical difficulties. But Doig was Read more…