Author: Ivan Doig
Original language: English
“If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point,” observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in Marias Coulee, the stage he stole in The Whistling Season. A decade later Morrie is back in Montana, as the beguiling narrator of Work Song.
Lured like so many others by “the richest hill on earth,” Morrie steps off the train in Butte, copper-mining capital of the world, in its jittery heyday of 1919. But while riches elude Morrie, once again a colorful cast of local characters – and their dramas -seem to seek him out: a look-alike-sound-alike pair of retired Welsh miners; a streak-of lightning waif so skinny he is nicknamed Russian Famine; a pair of mining company goons; a comely landlady propitiously named Grace; and an eccentric boss at the public library, the mere whisper of whose nickname inspires an unbookish terror in all who hear it. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the ironfisted mining company, radical “outside agitators,” and the beleaguered miners. And as tensions above and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give voice to those who truly need one.
So, while Work Song is rich in many of the ingredients that readers have liked so much in the earlier novel, it has its own undertow of circumstance, humor, and drama – and through it all, Morrie in his inimitable way calls the tune of “the music of men’s lives.”