Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Riverhead Books.
Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one
of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these
books to your wish list.
A few years ago, I read Ivan Doig's moving memoir of his mother's short life (Heart Earth). Afterward, I meant to try his fiction, which is mostly set about a hundred years ago in his native state of Montana. Thus when Sweet Thunder was released last week, I took the opportunity to get to know this other side of Doig's writing.
Here's the publisher's summary:
In the winter of 1920, a quirky bequest draws Morrie Morgan back to Butte, Montana, from a year-long honeymoon with his bride, Grace. But the mansion bestowed by a former boss upon the itinerant charmer, who debuted in Doig’s bestselling The Whistling Season, promises to be less windfall than money pit. And the town itself, with its polyglot army of miners struggling to extricate themselves from the stranglehold of the ruthless Anaconda Copper Mining Company, seems—like the couple’s fast-diminishing finances—on the verge of implosion.If I had to sum up Sweet Thunder in just a few words, I'd say it was the Roaring Twenties, gangsters, and the dwindling Old West on a collision course for Butte, Montana.
These twin dilemmas catapult Morrie into his new career as editorialist for the Thunder, the fledgling union newspaper that dares to play David to Anaconda’s Goliath. Amid the clatter of typewriters, the rumble of the printing presses, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Morrie puts his gift for word-slinging to work. As he pursues victory for the miners, he discovers that he is enmeshed in a deeply personal battle as well—the struggle to win lasting love for himself.
Brilliantly capturing an America roaring into a new age, Sweet Thunder is another great tale from a classic American novelist.
For rambler, gambler Morrie, settling into the crumbling Victorian mansion is made bearable only because of the Thunder. In its pages, he takes on everything from mining safety to property taxes, labor relations, and communism. Right about when he thinks he could get used to this life, his marriage turns rocky and his past comes knocking.
I love Doig's characters and his careful attention to historical detail. In fact, it struck me that 1920s Montana wasn't all that different from today: the rich get richer, avoid taxes, and wield their power over the little guys, who struggle to make ends meet. But Morrie lived in a time when a guy still stood a good chance to start over—just as long as no one read the old, yellowing newspapers stored in the library's archive.
As Morrie tries to save his marriage, make house repairs, and outrun his enemies, the daily rhythm of the newspaper hums in the background:
How often does a name fit so perfectly it cannot be improved on? From the very start, the atmosphere around the Thunder held that tingle of anticipation that the air carries before a rain. The spell was contagious. With its aroma of ink and paper and cigarette smoke and its staccato blurts of writing machines and jingling of telephones, the newsroom was a strangely exciting place where nothing definitive seemed to be happening, yet everything was. (p 53, uncorrected proof)Take a walk in old Montana as it starts to transition, for better or worse, from a dusty mining town to a twentieth-century city.
For more about Ivan Doig, visit his website where you can learn about all his novels and memoirs. Book clubs will appreciate the thoughtful discussion questions for Sweet Thunder. I especially liked the background notes, which put the novel in historical context and reveal Doig's own experiences working in a newsroom.
Riverhead Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, visit the Riverhead website. While there, explore their terrific book list, check out authors in the news, and view some fun videos. Stay in the know by following them on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.
Published by Penguin USA / Riverhead, 2013
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