Embracing a life
In his sixth novel, Ivan Doig returns to Montana's Rocky Mountain Front and some of the most colorful natives of Two Medicine country, the McCaskill family. This time around, he turns his attention to Lexa McCaskill, a steady and successful 40-year-old caterer now living in Seattle with another Montana expatriate, Mitch Rozier.
An environmental reporter several years older than Lexa, Mitch left his home in Twin Sulphur Springs for a football scholarship to the University of Washington. Now, 30 years later, he is divorced, soon to be unemployed, and suddenly being summoned home by his estranged father Lyle.
A World War II veteran, Lyle has eked out a living from a series of "surefire and doomed deals" from uranium prospecting to rabbit raising. The physical similarities between father and son belie deep-rooted differences. For Mitch, an ardent conservationist, his father's disgust for the U.S. Forest Service "and all other government agencies that kept people like him away from the big pinata of natural resources in this country" especially rankles.
Soon after arriving in Montana, Mitch learns that Lyle is terminally ill with leukemia. Lexa comes out to help Mitch care for his father, bringing along her sister Mariah, a beautiful, continent-hopping photographer. Lyle gets on well with the feisty McCaskill sisters, and even allows Mariah to document his illness in a series of photographs for a Montana newspaper.
But old wounds fester between father and son, and Lyle passes away without a real reconciliation. His cryptic last wish, to have his ashes thrown from a fire tower on Phantom Woman Mountain, becomes the lightning rod for Mitch's anger, and prompts dramatic confrontations between Lexa and Mitch and the two sisters. Only in the aftermath of these conflicts does Mitch find the answers he needs to make peace with his father.
Distinguished by wonderfully evocative descriptions of the Western landscape, Mountain Time is sure to strike a chord with readers who have struggled with the past and won the freedom to embrace their own lives.
Beth Duris is a writer in Washington, D.C.