Thursday, June 23, 2011

School Days: The Whistling Season

Whistling Season
Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season is like an onion.  Maybe one of the sweet Walla Walla Onions that are the state vegetable of Washington (there's a fact we like to get into every conversation.  Now I just have to work in the state grass).  The framing device is the thin story of Montana's school governor contemplating shutting down the one-room schools so that the danger of Sputnik can be fought with hours of school bus riding towards large comprehensive buildings.  This reminds the narrator of his one-room school house, not during the years of poor teaching but during the year class was taught by the unusual brother of his housekeeper.

That was the year after his mother died, when his father and brothers and he tried to hold onto their lives despite their loss. The year the housekeeper Rose whistled her way through the chores (except for cooking) while her dandy brother stood out like a sore thumb on the prairie.  The year that brother Morrie tamed the schoolyard and introduced the prodigy narrator to Latin.  The year the secrets behind Rose and Morrie became the price of admission to adulthood for Paul.  All these stories wrap around each other, occasionally pulling all the way back out to the grown-up Paul and his difficult decision, which he uses an equally difficult but much more personal decision from that momentous year to ground his strength on.  I enjoyed the family setting and the close view of Paul's emotional growth during that year; thanks to BookNAround for recommending this book.

This book about schools and learning is a fitting one to mark our first full day of summer break, which the kids spent either sleeping in until noon or waking up at dawn to watch cartoons, depending on their druthers.  Tomorrow we are hoping the temperature creeps up far enough to justify a trip to the pool.

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