Tag Archives: August book releases

Those Were the Days

The Bartender’s Tale: A Novel by Ivan Doig (Riverhead Books, $27.95, 387 pages)

“To me now, that culminating day of the summer – of the year, really – seems like one long, twisty dream, everything that began with Proxy’s Cadillac nosing into the driveway and the thunderous disclosures that followed, and then the tremendous gathering at the (fishing) derby, as if the audience would come to see what Tom Harry would bring about next.”

Ivan Doig, author of the bestseller Work Song and 8 other prior novels plus 3 nonfiction works, has fashioned a family novel that at first glance appears to be a very slight story.   It’s the tale of Tom Harry, a single-parent bartender in an isolated town in northern Montana.   The story we read is told by his son Rusty, and it’s a look back in time – the summer of 1960 – when the now-adult son was twelve and his father was still alive.

As told, Rusty meets a young playmate named Zoe who will turn out to be the love of his life and his future wife.   The story that the reader presumes will play out – that Tom Harry dies and Rusty takes over his role as the town’s most skilled bartender – is  not the one that Doig delivers.   (It is also not the story of Rusty and Zoe’s adult romance.)   Instead, it’s about how Tom Harry masterfully handles the stresses in his life, most notably when a former female co-worker shows up in town to present him with a twenty-one year old daughter he never knew existed.   It’s the suddenly on-the-scene daughter Francine who eventually becomes the possible replacement for Tom behind the bar.

If the plotline seems minor, Doig makes up for it because he has a marvelous voice for describing life’s everyday happenings:

“Tomorrow came all too soon.   Pop must have believed fish got up before dawn.   Cats were just scooting home from their nightly prowls, eyes glittering at us in the Hudson’s headlights, as he drove out of town and into a gravel road that seemed to go on and on.   I was more asleep than awake when he stopped the car.”

This is a story about a young man who comes to idolize his “Pop”, and discovers that he’s just a man with a few very human flaws (lust, dishonesty, and others) – and yet also a human being admired as a leader who never departs from his key values in life.   He’s a man who can and will do anything necessary to provide for his son.   The novel ends with a conclusion that Rusty could not see was coming, one which should surprise almost all readers.   It’s about love and life’s tough lessons and once you’ve finished reading The Bartender’s Tale, you will no doubt feel like you’ve left the company of some very decent, struggling yet valiant people who will be missed.

Doig is a unique writer who takes what’s seemingly too small in life to matter, fills the entire stage with it, and makes us care deeply about outcomes.   It’s a very special gift.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

 “(An) enjoyable, old-fashioned, warmhearted story  about fathers and sons, growing up, and big life changes.”   Library Journal

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Coming Up Next…

A preview-review of The Bartender’s Tale: A Novel by Ivan Doig (author of Work Song).

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The Author’s Perspective

This is the first part of an interview with author Nora McFarland whose latest book, Going to the Bad: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery, will be released tomorrow (August 7, 2012).

1.  Joseph Arellano (JA):  You live in Macon, Georgia but your Lilly Hawkins mysteries (and Going to the Bad is the third in the series) are set in Bakersfield, California.   Why?

I lived in Bakersfield when I started writing the first book in the series, A Bad Day’s Work.   I’d been a shooter – industry slang for a TV news photographer – and knew it would make a great set-up for a mystery.   I also loved Bakersfield and its quirky heritage.

2.  JA:  Do you periodically visit Bakersfield in order to update the descriptions of the local scenery, or do you write completely from memory?

I visit once a year.   What I like to do is write a rough draft, visit, see how badly I’ve remembered certain details, and then fix it in the second draft.   On that same trip, I can research ideas for the next book that’s not been written yet.   That’s a great way to get inspired.   For Going to the Bad, I had an idea that I wanted a scene set in an oil field, so I spent a day visiting the more accessible ones near Bakersfield.   I took notes on everything I smelled and heard, as well as the terrain.   While there I realized the scene should be a chase, either at night or in the fog when visibility is bad.

3.  JA:  Is there a chance that the character of Lilly Hawkins will someday relocate to the state of Georgia?

The grit and color of Bakersfield are an important part of Lilly’s character.   I’d never move her.   Lilly was born there and she’ll probably die there.

4.  JA:  We’re fellow Trojans, so I’d like to ask you what you learned from attending the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema and Television that apply to your writing?

The screenwriting courses I took as part of my degree in production laid the groundwork for everything I’m doing now.   They taught us story structure, pacing, and dialog among other things.   Probably the biggest lesson I took away from those classes was that your main character has to change.   I think that’s the core of drama and storytelling.   Your main character must begin in one place and end in another.

5.  JA:  In an alternate life, you’re not writing books or filming the news.   What would you be doing?

If it’s a fantasy where I could do anything I wanted, then I’d say screenwriting.   I love movies as much as books.

Thank you to Nora McFarland.   Part two of this interview, with five additional questions for Nora to answer, will run in the very near future on this site.   Going to the Bad will be available as a trade paperback book, and also as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

Going to the Bad: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery by Nora McFarland (Touchstone Paperback, $15.00, 304 pages) Here we are back in Bakersfield with the crew of TV station KJAY.   Going to the Bad is the third episode in the excellent mystery series written by former news camera person Nora McFarland.   This time around the book retains the same attention to heart and action present in the first two books (A Bad Day’s Work and Hot, Shot, and Bothered).   The main character, Lilly Hawkins, is living with Rod, the handsome newsman turned behind-the-camera executive, in her Uncle Bud’s house.

The story develops around a shooting at the house.   As with anything related to Bud, there are layers of secrecy and shady dealings.   The timeline for the tale spans about 32 hours – from the morning of Christmas Eve until late afternoon the following day.   The significance of the time of year with its emphasis on family plays well given the interwoven families whose past secrets inform the solution to the identification of the assailant.

Author McFarland advances her characters with challenges to their loyalty, a recurring theme  of the three books.   There is also an undercurrent, a strong one, related to social classes and the disparity among them.   The homes inhabited by the characters are vastly different as are their financial situations.   When faced with challenges by outsiders, each of the families comes to grips with it in its own way.   This book is about both letting go and commitment.   The plot is engaging and makes it a speedy read, even though Lilly spends most of the time running on empty.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Going to the Bad will be released on August 7, 2012.   “An unforgettable heroine…  Funny, smart, and honest.   Packed full of adrenaline and attitude.”   Lisa Scottoline, author of Look Again.

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