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The Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig

By Underheather @UnderHeather

In The Last Bus to Wisdom, Doig tells the tale of Donal, an inquisitive and gregarious 11-year old. When his Gran has to undergo surgery, Donal is put on a bus to go spend the summer with his great-aunt Kitty in Wisconsin. The bus journey proves to be full of surprising characters, and Donal gets all their signatures and words of wisdom (ha!) in his autograph book, from a buxom young waitress in love to a sheriff with a Napoleon complex. When Donal finally reaches Wisconsin, he finds that life with gigantic, bossy Aunt Kitty is far from what he’s used to on the ranch. The only saving grace is the relationship he develops with his Uncle Herman through long, slow talks in the greenhouse about Herman’s obsession with the wild west. Before long, Donal’s summer plans are upended and he begins a journey of bizarre experiences where he learns the true meaning of love and loyalty.

Donal is wonderfully naive and is endlessly amusing. His penchant for telling tales is a window into the world of his imagination and provides a lot of insight about his character and hopes and dreams. Donal reminds me somewhat of Will Tweedy in Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns (see my review here), only Donal is more charming, more profound, and somehow even easier to sympathize with. The story moves at a leisurely pace and yet is full of as many unexpected twists as any suspense novel, ending up in a place you would never have expected from the way it began.

I’ll admit, though, that I found it pretty hard to get into this story until around halfway through. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it just didn’t grab me and scream “Keep turning those pages!” until later. That being said, once the story began ramping up into its deluge of quirky wisdom and riotously fun and unexpected experiences, I couldn’t bring myself to put it down until I had scarfed down every last morsel of the story. It was a tale of surprising insight, depth and urgency, and yet it maintained the gentle, unassuming cadence so typical of Doig’s work. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone and everyone–just don’t give up if it doesn’t grab you right from the beginning! It’s definitely worth sticking with.

Ivan Doig was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, in 1939… grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front where much of his writing takes place… first book, the highly acclaimed memoir This House of Sky, was a finalist for the National Book Award… former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, Doig is a graduate of Northwestern University where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism… he also holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington… in the century’s-end San Francisco Chronicle polls to name the best Western novels and works of non-fiction, Doig is the only living writer with books in the top dozen on both lists: English Creek in fiction and This House of Sky in non-fiction… he lives in Seattle with his wife Carol, who has taught the literature of the American West. To find out more, visit his website.

Psssssst! Don’t forget to check out his awesome explanation of his writing life and style in his Note to Readers!

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