Pull up a Stool

The son of Two Medicine County bartender and a mom who left when he was a baby, Rusty spent his fist six years in Arizona with his aunt’s family, tormented by his older cousins. Then his larger-than-life father arrives and claims him, whisking him off to sheep country Montana and the legendary Medicine Lodge with its magical backroom/museum filled with all manner of items traded for another few drinks. The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig focuses on one pivotal summer in 1960 when Rusty is twelve and meets his best friend, meets his half sister and her taxi-dancer mother, saves someone’s life, and has a breakthrough fishing experience, along with much else. A sound archivist from the Library of Congress provides a deeper level to this very atmospheric novel and is one of many well-developed, nuanced, and interesting characters. Doig’s use of regional and historical language and expression is an entertainment in itself. The friendship between Rusty and Zoe deftly captures an intimacy that creates a unique, shared view of the world often embellished by acting bits from their favorite movies. The subtle portrait of humble Tom, the bartender who is not demonstrative with his emotions, yet evokes so much emotion is masterful. When Tom decides to put the Medicine Lodge up for sale, the reader feels as devastated as Rusty. Finishing this novel gave me the same feeling as the end of summer always does, I just wanted it to go on and on.

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