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Work Song (2010)

by Ivan Doig

Series: Whistling Season (2)

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3964452,250 (3.74)106
Itinerant teacher and perennial charmer Morrie Morgan returns to the 1919 copper-mining center of Butte, Montana. There he meets retired Welsh twins, a comely landlady, and a Russian waif and encounters the seething ferment of an iron-fisted mining company, radical union agitators, and beleaguered miners.… (more)
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» See also 106 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
I happened to see this book as a recommended book, for myself, after finishing The Whistling Season. I noticed the author's name and investigated to learn that Work Song is the second book in a series of 3. I was so excited.

This book continued to hold my attention, just as the first did. This book follows Morgan for a bit.

I loved the ending, and am looking forward to the next book. ( )
  BoundTogetherForGood | Apr 1, 2022 |
Readers of Doig’s previous novel, The Whistling Season, will immediately recognize Morris Morgan, the quirky, knowledgeable schoolteacher who mentors young Paul until Paul’s father marries Morrie’s “sister,” Rose. After wandering through travels for several years, Morrie finds himself back in Montana, in the small mining town of Butte, Colorado. Morrie’s flamboyant speech carries over into a rich, descriptive narrative, beginning with a lost trunk and the search for lodging and gainful employment. The trunk remains lost, but Morrie finds himself boarding with the Widow Faraday and two retired miners named Griff and Hoop, all three of whom are ardent critics of the mining company, Anaconda, which runs the town. For work, Morrie starts out as a hired cryer for the local funeral home, but once word gets out about his extensive knowledge and book-learning, the crochety old librarian engages him in a literary debate, then hires him to manage the calendar and other assorted duties. And before long, things are astir in the town, with miners’ union meetings held in the basement of the library and Morrie drafted by a former student to help compose a work song for the miners protest.

One of the most amusing parts of this novel is the interaction between Morrie and his boss, the self-appointed librarian, Samuel Sandison, who once owned a massive ranch, and still owns a beautiful collection of books which he has loaned to the library. In one chapter, Sandison gripes about dealing with library trustees — “I thought it was hard to keep track of a few thousand cows — that was nothing compared to this outfit” — and in another enforces the library code of conduct when the miners who are on strike are looking for somewhere to mingle.

Though this is an excellent piece of historical fiction, I think that Doig’s previous novel has more widespread appeal. Morrie’s literature-strewn narrative can become tedious at times, especially when he is trading quotes with various characters. Griff and Hoop add levity and humor, and Morrie and Grace’s awkward courtship lightens the mood. Recommended for those who have read and enjoyed “The Whistling Season,” as well as those who don’t mind wading through the idiosyncrasies of an over-learned narrator. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
Morrie Morgan has arrived in Butte, Montana just after the end of World War I. Morrie is “an itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer” who’s been attracted by news of “the richest hill on earth” and a need to get as far from Chicago as possible. While he lands a position at the local library, he’s also soon immersed in the miners’ struggles to form a union and fight for better working conditions and fair wages.

What a charming and engaging story! Per the book jacket, Morgan first appeared in Doig’s The Whistling Season; I have not read that earlier work and didn’t feel I was missing any information to understand Morrie and follow this story.

The pace is somewhat slow. As events unfold we learn about the residents of Butte – Sandison (former cattle baron, and still an acknowledged “big man” in town), Grace (Morrie’s young, pretty, widowed landlady), Griff & Hoop (two old miners who share the boarding house with Morrie), Barbara aka Rabrab (Morrie’s former student, now teaching 6th grade), Jared (a young union organizer, and engaged to Rabrab), and Russian Famine (a waif of a boy who needs guidance). The town, itself, is practically a character with its small café, prolonged Irish wakes, boisterous bar, festival celebration, and church gatherings.

I liked Morrie’s slow, deliberate way of judging the situation. The bookworm in me loved all his literary references, and his ability to cite an appropriate passage, seemingly plucked out of thin air. Make no mistake, he’s no milquetoast librarian; Morrie can (and does) take care of himself, though he’s decidedly uncomfortable with firearms.

Grace is a marvelous strong woman. Principled, kind, compassionate, feisty, courageous and conflicted. Doig’s skill at character building shows in the way her actions reveal her inner struggles.

I need to go back and read The Whistling Season … heck, I need to read ALL of Ivan Doig’s works. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jun 30, 2020 |
I was so excited when I won this book from the Good Reads Giveaways, as it was a book I was planning on buying when it came out. I loved the Whistling Season and couldn’t wait to read this follow-up book. Doig is a wonderful writer and storyteller. He really makes you feel like you are in Butte, MT in 1919-the Richest Hill in the world. His story is populated with eccentric and quirky characters like The Earl of Hell, who looks like Santa Claus and is in charge of local public library, Russian Famine, a 6th grader who gets his nickname because he is so thin and can’t sit still, Hoop and Griff, the mining partners who look like twins but are not related, and of course Morrie (Morris) Morgan, the walking encyclopedia from The Whistling Season.

This is a character driven story, and the plot itself is a bit weak. Morrie Morgan comes to Butte to make his fortune in this booming cooper mining town and winds up working at the town’s library (the best collection of books west of Chicago). He inadvertently gets involved with the head of the mining union (via an ex-student of his from The Whistling Season) and helps them to write a catchy song to spur on their union cause. He also takes a fancy to his widowed landlady Grace-so there’s a bit of a love story going on too.

The atmosphere, characters, and Doig’s evocative descriptions make up for the lack of plot and it was a highly enjoyable read. Although this is a stand alone book, I would suggest reading the Whistling season first, since much of the “mystery” of the first book is revealed in this book as common knowledge.
( )
  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
3.5 I enjoyed the humor in this book--kind of a cross between Wodehouse and Twain--light--in a western. I look forward to reading more from this author who was new to me. ( )
  tkcs | Feb 23, 2019 |
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To Carol Doig,
for all the harmony
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Morgan, did you say your name is?
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Itinerant teacher and perennial charmer Morrie Morgan returns to the 1919 copper-mining center of Butte, Montana. There he meets retired Welsh twins, a comely landlady, and a Russian waif and encounters the seething ferment of an iron-fisted mining company, radical union agitators, and beleaguered miners.

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