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Dancing at the Rascal Fair

by Ivan Doig

Series: McCaskill Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7772020,303 (4.18)98
Doig captures the passion and tenacity of turn-of-the-century immigrants struggling to build new lives amidst Montana's windswept Rockies. The tale unfolds into a contest of the heart between Anna Ramsay and Angus McCaskill--kept apart by obligations--as they and their stormy kin vie to tame the brutal land.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Splendid family saga. Rob and Angus emigrate together from Scotland to Montana at age 19. The book covers about 30 years, 1890 to 1920, of their relationship as sheep ranchers. Their lovers, their wives, their children. There's not much plot here, just the ups and downs of frontier living. It's very richly written, evocative. ( )
  kukulaj | Jun 30, 2020 |
Okay, this is a real review of the book I actually read. (Initially, I had a copy of the Penguin edition, and it was the first book I've ever given up on because of its physical design. It was set in an extremely heavy and ornate font, at about a 9-point size, and I could only read it for a few minutes before developing an eyestrain headache.)

Once I dumped the eyesight-killer and laid hands on a large-print copy, things went much better!

Reviews mention that this book is part of Doig's "Montana Trilogy", but it stands very well alone. It follows the lives of two young Scotsmen who emigrate to Montana in the late 1800s and homestead in the beautiful but cruel "Two Medicine River" country where he has set other work. (Readers of "The Bartender's Tail" will recognize much of the locale.)

The friends become business partners, but things begin to sour when Rob Barclay brings his young sister over from Scotland, with an eye toward making a match between her and Angus McCaskill, not realizing that Angus has fallen deeply in love with another woman. Over the years, their relationship waxes and wanes as together with their families they try to survive in an unforgiving land. ( )
  LyndaInOregon | Dec 14, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Mar 2011):
- ..1987 epic novel..about early homesteaders in Montana, beginning in 1889. It is part of the Two Medicine trilogy, though the story stands on its own.
- The story begins with Robert Burns Barclay and Angus McCaskill, 19 year old pals with an adventurous streak, boarding the "James Watt" for passage to America and Montana. They're leaving behind Nethermuir, Scotland (and the annual Rascal Fair) for the vague, but enchanting, promise of riches; word of such potential reaches them by way of Christmas letters to Nethermuir sent by Lucas Barclay, Rob's uncle..
- So, off they journey, self-sure Rob in the lead, with bunks in a sweltering steerage of a groaning ship. Angus, who narrates the story from a future vantagepoint, is awed by the horizonless Atlantic. They make New York harbor and immediately set out by train westward. At long last they are pointed toward the outpost of Gros Ventre, a settlement far to the north in Two Medicine territory, where they are told live "only indians and coyotes". They set out at first thaw.. The endless buttes and plateaus and distant curtains of mountain are inspiring, but their mood is dampened by the ragged town they ride into. Unnerving too is their reunion with Lucas, saloonkeeper at The Medicine Lodge, who has met with near disaster and permanent disability in a mining accident.
- As Rob and Angus adjust to their surroundings and take menial jobs in town, they venture out on the range and eventually meet old, land-wise Ninian Duff, who..convinces the young men to enter a drawing for homesteads, with any eye toward raising sheep. The region in which they settle..is called Scotch Heaven, and is watered by three meandering creeks. Homes and outbuildings are built, a school is raised.., and within a few years both men count at least 1000 "woolies" in their flocks. They are tested by severe winters, in which starvation of the sheep is always an issue..
- Angus is recruited..as teacher at the South Fork school, a position he "temporarily" keeps for many years to come. Rob marries and starts a family, and Angus is smitten by the Noon Creek teacher, Anna Ramsay, whose coyness only stokes his interest more.
- As years accrue, the flow of homesteaders increases, many of whom are ill-equipped, and the U.S. Forest Service, at the behest of President Teddy Roosevelt, steps in to manage the land for conservation purposes. Both trends squeeze the available grazing land, requiring our now-seasoned ranchers to make difficult decisions... World war arrives, first via deflated lamb and wool prices and later in a much more palpable way. Through it all - untimely death, government dictates, and an inevitable changing way of life for the ranchers - the demands of the seasons go on. The wrath of a particularly severe winter proves the penultimate test..
- As mentioned, Angus narrates, but the excellent dialogue propels the story forward. An unusual device is used by the author also - that of interspersing the dialogue with unspoken thoughts, which, to me, elevates the exchanges that much more. The novel is firmly planted in realism, which can drone on sometimes in a lengthy story, but Mr Doig does it justice. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Oct 29, 2018 |
This is the second book in the fictional trilogy of the McCaskill family of Montana. While it followed the first book, English Creek, in publication, the setting is really the beginning of the McCaskill saga. Moreover, while the trilogy is its own epic story in total, this book is epic in its own right, as it takes the first McCaskill from the shores of Scotland and ages him through many decades as a sheep rancher, teacher, husband, and father. Perhaps, it is this "epic" quality that gives this book a more mature feel to it from the first volume. Neither book lets you get bored, but there is a extra drive to this one that comes from narrating so many years of making a life. I would easily have given this book an extra star in the rating if not for two aspects: obsessive behavior by two of its key characters that is not, in my opinion, adequately explained, and thus, not adequately justified. Having strong emotional responses to situations -- situations that are not THAT uncommon -- is one thing, but turning your life upside down for decades is quite another, especially when very little, if any, of your other behavior indicates similar behavior. The author eventually resolves both of these "obsessions" in fine literary style, which may be reason for others to completely negate whatever criticism I just offered. I am certainly glad I read the book and recommend it to all others. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
3.5 stars
Rob Barclay and Angus McCaskill leave Scotland for Montana, where Rob’s uncle Lucas is “a miner.” But what they don’t know is that Lucas’s mine, aptly named the Great Maybe, is no more. In fact, Lucas lost his hands in the explosion and is now a saloonkeeper in a small town, Gros Ventre, with a Native American “housekeeper,” Nancy.

Once they find him, though, nothing will keep the boys from trying to make their fortunes along with Lucas. And he helps stake them. They homestead and begin life as sheep ranchers.

Angus narrates the story, taking us from 1889 to 1919. His love for fellow schoolteacher Anna Ramsey is a central theme, although Anna breaks his heart and Angus eventually marries Rob’s younger sister Adair. She is a good partner for him, if not the passionate love he’s envisioned.

There is some absolutely beautiful writing, and Doig gives us all the emotions of life – laughter, love, grief, despair, anger, jealousy, and happiness.

One thing that did put me off a bit was Angus’s pining over Anna for so long. It reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara mooning over Ashley Wilkes beyond all reason, and without any encouragement. I’d have given the book a full four stars but for that.

I think I’ll read more of his work. I know that my husband would like this book. I think that my brother might appreciate it as well. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 11, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Scotchmen and coyotes was the only ones that could live in the Basin, and pretty damn soom the coyotes starved out. -Charles Campbell Doig (1901-71)
Dedication
For Vernon Cattensen, who saw the patterns on the land
First words
To say the truth, it was not how I expected -- stepping off toward America past a drowned horse.
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...she had a mind like a magic needle.  It penetrated every book I managed to find for her, and of my bunch in that schoolroom Karen was the one spellbound, as I had been at her age, by those word rainbows called poems.
I was told once I am a great one for yesterdays, and I said back that they have brought us to where we are.
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Doig captures the passion and tenacity of turn-of-the-century immigrants struggling to build new lives amidst Montana's windswept Rockies. The tale unfolds into a contest of the heart between Anna Ramsay and Angus McCaskill--kept apart by obligations--as they and their stormy kin vie to tame the brutal land.

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