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The Bartender's Tale Hardcover – August 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A Washington Post and Seattle Times pick for Best of 2012 Fiction
Booklist Editors' Choice for 2012
Library Journal Best Book for Teens 2012

“Doig cranks into motion a dense valentine of a novel about a father and a small town at the start of the 1960s… Doig writes the tenderness between Rusty and his father vividly, and his facility with natural, vernacular dialogue is often hypnotizing… The Bartender's Tale is thoroughly engaging, and the book's soft focus of nostalgia is in itself a kind of pleasure.” –NPR

“Pick it up, lose yourself in the past and remember what it was like to be 12 years old, when your world and all the people who entered into it felt as fresh as the Montana mountain air.” –The Associated Press

“Doig is at his best with coming-of-age stories. And he is masterful at exploring the emotional complexities of family and community through the eyes of a precocious youth… [He] has fashioned a moving tale of tolerance, self-discovery and forgiveness in which a child comes to terms with his own origins and in the process opens a new door to his future.” –The Seattle Times

“With this expert novel, [Doig] sets himself a larger canvas and fills it with a diverse cast… Fact and fiction are skillfully fused to document a boy’s last days of youth and a history his father can’t leave behind… Rusty’s youthful adventures are enchanting, but Doig does something more—he punctuates them with the colorful local idiom of his father’s grizzled punters.” –Newsweek/Daily Beast

“Doig expertly spins out [the] various narrative threads with his usual gift for bringing history alive in the odysseys of marvelously thorny characters… Possibly the best novel yet by one of America’s premier storytellers.” –Kirkus (starred review)

“Highly textured and evocative… Doig gives us a poignant saga of a boy becoming a man alongside a town and a bygone way of life inching into the modern era. " –Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

“[The] rewards of The Bartender’s Tale—a subtle and engaging narrative, characters who behave the way real people behave, the joys of careful and loving observation—remain very great and extremely rare.“ –The Washington Post

“[An] enjoyable, old-fashioned, warmhearted story about fathers and sons, growing up, and big life changes.” –Library Journal

"Essential reading for anyone who cares about western literature." –Booklist (starred review) 

"Ivan Doig's new novel reveals why he's considered one of fiction's premiere storytellers." –Barnes & Noble Review


"As enjoyable and subtly thought-provoking a piece of fiction as you're likely to pick up this summer. It's a book that can be appreciated just for the quality of the prose and the author's adherence to the sturdy conventions of old-fashioned narrative or for Doig's sly gloss on Western genre fiction and unforced evocation of our current condition—or, better yet, for all those things… A pleasure to read.” –The Los Angeles Times

"Not one stitch unravels in this intricately threaded narrative… infectious." –The New York Times Book Review  

“If you were looking for a novel that best expresses the American spirit, you’d have to ride past a lot of fence posts before finding anything as worthy as Work Song.” –Chicago Tribune

“Doig has delivered another compelling tale about America, epic as an Old West saga but as fresh and contemporary as the news.” –Seattle Times

“Richly imagined and beautifully paced.” –Associated Press (also ran in San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere)

“A classic tale from the heyday of American capitalism by the king of the Western novel.” –The Daily Beast (Hot Reads) 


"Along with his much praised, incantatory gifts for evoking quintessentially American prairie life and history, the National Book Award finalist brings… a bushel and peck of irresistible characters, each so full of spunk, wit, ambition or sheer orneriness that not one of them will lie down on the page and sleep for a moment… Both elegiac and life-affirming, The Whistling Season takes the chill out of today's literary winds." –Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Doig’s] writing is as well crafted as the best carpentry. The Whistling Season does what Doig does best: evoke the past and create a landscape and characters worth caring about… it's lovely storytelling, whether you're in Montana or New York." –USA Today

"A deeply meditated and achieved art." –New York Times Book Review

"Doig is in the best sense an old-fashioned novelist: You feel as if you’re in the hands of an absolute expert at story-making, a hard-hewn frontier version of Walter Scott or early Dickens. The landscape and characters are vivid, the prose flawless, and like the earlier masters, Doig imbues each scene and his spacious story with deep emotional understanding and a sense of possibility and personal adventure. The Whistling Season is a book that strives for more than beauty, which it achieves: It reaches for joy." –O, The Oprah Magazine

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

 A third-generation Montanan, Ivan Doig is the author of  thirteen previous books, including the Indiebound bestseller Work Song and the classic memoir This House of Sky. He has been a National Book Award finalist and has received the Wallace Stegner Award, among many other honors. He lives in Seattle.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st Printing edition (August 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487359
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487354
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (355 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #810,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ivan Doig is the author of ten previous books. Seven are novels, including English Creek and Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and three are nonfiction, including the highly acclaimed memoir This House of Sky, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, Doig holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. He lives in Seattle.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else on July 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
No one can turn the mundane to magic better than Ivan Doig, and the proof is in THE BARTENDER'S TALE. This is the fourth Doig novel I've read, and it may just be my favorite. Pull up a barstool, order a Select beer, and prepare to be enchanted.

Russell "Rusty" Harry is our narrator, an old man who takes us back to the summer of 1960 in the fictional town of Gros Ventre, Montana. Rusty was twelve that summer, and he and his father Tom had been living together in splendid bachelorhood for six years. They ate tomato soup for breakfast, fished for rainbow trout with chicken guts for bait, and kept the customers happy at the Medicine Lodge, where Tom Harry was known as the best bartender in Montana.

Twelve going on thirteen is an age of wonder. We're still young enough to enjoy childish pleasures, but old enough to begin snooping around in the adult world, collecting information the grown-ups have withheld from us all our lives. For Rusty, that adolescent excitement is heightened by the arrival of several eye-opening outsiders as the summer progresses.

Delano Robertson is a young man obsessed with regional vernacular. He shows up in Gros Ventre with his Gab Lab, ready to record the Missing Voices of the old-timers. His enthusiasm and good nature help him weather the embarrassing moments of initiation into Montana life.

Zoe Constantine moves into town from Butte when her parents take over the local diner. She and Rusty become co-conspirators as only twelve-year-olds can do. They spend the summer polishing their acting skills and eavesdropping on the Medicine Lodge patrons through a hidden vent.

Most disturbing of all, Proxy Shannon purrs on in from Reno driving a bright red Cadillac, with her grown daughter Francine in tow.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ivan Doig is celebrated as one of the most accomplished writers of American Western literature. But for me, he has always been far more than that: he is simply a master of literary prose--an accomplished literary author who just happens to set most of his novels in the American West. He uses words, artfully and seemingly without effort, to breathe life into his characters and the world they inhabit. When you come away from one of his novels, you feel like you've just experienced a slice of reality truer than your own existence. His books leave you with a feeling of intense intimacy and wholeness. His characters linger. They take up residence in your life, their tales and values becoming part of your own useful reservoir of knowledge.

Doig's most recent novel, "The Bartender's Tale," does not disappoint. It is another outstanding work of powerful emotional depth.

The novel is set in north central Montana in the same fictional world that grounds a great deal of Doig's previous works. The place is Two Medicine country and its anchoring town Gros Ventre. It is sagebrush country rimmed by snow-capped mountains and crisscrossed by leafy green creeks with ancient towering trees.

The book is set in 1960, a time when this corner of Big Sky country is home to herders, drovers, farmers, and ranchers. It is an odd corner of America that is rapidly changing--a remnant from the past. It is a world of rainbow trout, hay, alfalfa, sheep, and cattle. The people are rugged and self-sufficient. When they want company, they make their way to the town's one reputable watering hole, the legendary Medicine Lodge. There, the saloon's proprietor and bartender is Tom Harry.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gayla M. Collins VINE VOICE on September 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ivan Doig, the author of "The Bartender's Tale" is a MUST READ author for me. I have read three books prior and am gifting myself the other reads as I go along. I have had such angst writing this review over and over as I can't academically express the man's genius. How can I share adequately that he is the consummate poet of the prairies and plains of Montana. His talent reigns supreme. So, from my heart and not my head, I proffer this review.

Rusty Harry, 12 year old son of Tom Harry, owner of the famous Medicine Lodge bar in the Gros Ventre, Montana area, shares his tale of being rescued by his father from his aunt's home in Phoenix when he was 6. Before that Tom took rare visits to see Rusty as his ownership of Medicine Lodge kept him swamped. Rusty's Phoenix cousins harangued Russell mercilessly....the bastard child; the reject left at their door at two months old because his no count mother abandoned Tom when Rusty was two months old. The extra income was nice for the aunt, but that was all. He meant money and no more.

Now, 6 years after his rescue, Rusty has come to feel he knows his lot; he loves his dad but still is suspicious. When Zoe, the 12 year old daughter of the one and only restaurant owners, befriends Rusty, he has a detective partner to figure out all the truths. She, as nosy and free-spirited go about their detective work. The vent in the upstairs bar storage room grant them conversations from all the customers during their waking hours. Rusty is perplexed why a former "taxi dancer" that Tom knew in his earlier, very rowdy years is suddenly dropping off her daughter, 21 year old Francine, claiming Tom is her father and wants to learn the trade of bartending.
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