The Bartender's Tale

The Bartender's Tale

Book - 2012
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From a great American storyteller, a one-of-a-kind father and his precocious son, rocked by a time of change.

Tom Harry has a streak of frost in his black pompadour and a venerable bar called The Medicine Lodge, the chief watering hole and last refuge of the town of Gros Ventre, in northern Montana. Tom also has a son named Rusty, an "accident between the sheets" whose mother deserted them both years ago.The pair make an odd kind of family, with the bar their true home, but they manage just fine. 

Until the summer of 1960, that is, when Rusty  turns twelve. Change arrives with gale force, in the person of Proxy, a taxi dancer Tom knew back when, and her beatnik daughter, Francine. Is Francine, as Proxy claims, the unsuspected legacy of her and Tom's past? Without a doubt she is an unsettling gust of the future, upending every certainty in Rusty's life and generating a mist of passion and pretense that seems to obscure everyone's vision but his own. As Rusty struggles to decipher the oddities of adult behavior and the mysteries build toward a reckoning, Ivan Doig wonderfully captures how the world becomes bigger and the past becomes more complex in the last moments of childhood.

Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, [2012]
Copyright Date: ©2012
ISBN: 9781594487354
Branch Call Number: DOI
Characteristics: 387 pages ;,24 cm


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Jul 16, 2017

This was my first Ivan Doig experience and I'm now searching for all I can find by this author. Delightful humor amid the colorful description and compelling, lovable characters. Listened to the audiobook and the narrator's mellow voice complete with gentle drawl was perfect.

Mar 17, 2016

In Ivan Doig’s The Bartenders’s Tale, Rusty’s young life took a turn for the better when he was six years old. He was the result of an accident between the sheets and was being raised by his Aunt Marge and tortured by his older cousins. At six, his father rescued him and took him back to Gros Ventre, Montana to live with him. Tom Harry, his father is the World’s Best Bartender, a listener who soaks up the stories and troubles of his customers as he polishes the bar with his white towel. He is no talker, he’s a listener, and he tells no tales.

His father teaches him to fish, lets him play in the back room of the bar which filled to the rafters with gear, tack and fascinating bits and pieces of the West that customers short of money have exchanged for their beer. His dad occasionally heads off to Canada to sell off some of the stuff for some extra money, something that always leaves Rusty fraught with fears of loss and abandonment. Those six years with Aunt Marge loom large in part because his father is unaware of his fears and not being a demonstrative or talkative man, is unable to provide the reassurance he needs.

Things change during the summer of Rusty’s twelfth year. He gets to work one day a week cleaning the bar, being in the front with his dad. He meets a new friend, Zoe, with whom he becomes inseparable. Del, a collector of stories and dialects comes to town to encourage Tom to go to a reunion bringing together the folks who worked on the Fort Peck Dam and Proxy, a long-lost associate of Tom’s delivers his 21 year old daughter to his door, a daughter he never knew existed so she can learn the bartending trade.

So much is happening and it’s all so exciting and Rusty can hardly understand it all – and while he needs so many answers from his father, he instead spends hours analyzing and assessing everything with his best friend Zoe. It’s a lovely story of childhood that rings true. Rusty is a great kid, kind, generous and perceptive, but he’s still a kid and gets things wrong. He really needs answers from his dad and eventually he does. His dad does have a story to tell him and when he finally tells him, Rusty is freed from doubt. But it’s a fun and heartwarming story getting there.

Ivan Doig has been one of my favorite writers ever since I sat down one afternoon, picked up The Sea Runners and forgot the rest of the world existed until then end of that most incredible voyage. I have read his fiction and nonfiction writing and loved it all. I was heartbroken when he died last year. The Bartender’s Tale is no exception. It is a wonderful and lovely novel that I enjoyed a lot. It takes us back to familiar places that have been the home of several of his novels.

The Bartender’s Tale is not as sharp as some of his other novels. Centered on the 12 year old worldview, it is more innocent and naive even when there are goings-on “between the sheets.” Some of the characters seem more two-dimensional that I expect to find in a Doig novel. However, the central father-son relationship seems so honest and true that everything else becomes minor quibbles. And again, as in everything Doig has ever written, the setting is a character in the novel as potent and present as any person. Wallace Stegner, the great writer of the West, once said that the literature of the West was all about hope. Doig was in that same tradition and The Bartender’s Tale is a true tale of the West.

Feb 07, 2016

I loved this book! It was good, clean, old-fashioned fun, mostly about a wonderful relationship between a father and his 12-year old son. It was well written, and it touched a deep emotional chord within me. I recommend it highly.

Oct 19, 2015

Aside from some unlikely dialogue from two overly precocious preteen actors-to-be, the author ties things up (perhaps a bit too tightly) skillfully in the end. Plus it was fun to revisit the fictional town of Gros Ventre in the Two Medicine country, the scene for Doig's earlier trilogy, as experienced from the backroom of the Medicine Lodge.

PimaLib_MaryG Sep 21, 2015

This is one of Ivan Doig's best and that is saying a lot. A year in the life of 12-year-old Rusty and his single father, the town bartender, as told through the eyes of Rusty.

May 05, 2015

There were parts where the story dragged and some twists that were expected but I enjoyed the tale overall. It gave that old timey, Americana feeling. It reminded me of NPR's "This American Life". The story painted a picture of days gone bye with an entertaining cast of characters. The only downside, like I said before, there were parts where the story dragged and I found myself thinking "where is this going?" Would I recommend it? Sure. Top of my list to tell people to read? Probably not but worth checking out.

Jan 08, 2015

Love Ivan Doig, this one was easy to enjoy.

Dec 11, 2013

Another fabulous story set in a particular time and place in Montana. Love Doig's voice in all his stories. Listened to this one and the audio production was excellent.

Aug 16, 2013

A wonderful period piece. The setting descriptions bring you right in to Montana 1960. Mr. Doig as usual is a wonderful story teller and character inventor. It flows like the Missouri river -- with great falls, twists and turns, and constantly moving in a languid summer in Montana sort of way.

Jun 21, 2013

I absolutely loved this book and as a result started reading his other books, such as his trilogy about Montana.

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