Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: 2006
From the publisher:
“Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” So begins the newspaper ad offering the services of an “A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, exceptional disposition” that draws the attention of widower Oliver Milliron in the fall of 1909. That unforgettable season deposits the ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee along with a stampede of homesteaders drawn by the promise of the Big Ditch—a gargantuan irrigation project intended to make the Montana prairie bloom. When the schoolmarm runs off with an itinerant preacher, Morris is pressed into service, setting the stage for the “several kinds of education”—none of them of the textbook variety—Morris and Rose will bring to Oliver, his three sons, and the rambunctious students in the region’s one-room schoolhouse. A paean to a way of life that has long since vanished.
This was my first book by Ivan Doig but it definitely won’t be my last. This is one of those gently told stories that drew me deep into a time and place.
1910 Montana where the farming is dry and the schoolhouses are one room. Told in flashback by Paul Milliorn it’s a wonderful story. It made me laugh, it choked me up a couple of times and it thoroughly entertained me with its many interesting characters.
It opens in the 1950’s when Paul is the State Superintendent of Schools he visits the home and school where he grew up. It jogs his memory back to when he was 13 years old. His widowed father of three boys hired a housekeeper based on an ad that started “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” When she arrives in with her brother the small Montana farming town, its schoolchildren and even their parents are about to be changed.
When Rose’s brother Morrie takes over the one room school his teaching methods are definitely not what folks are used to. The arrival of Halley’s comet is a backdrop to this coming of age story that is about Paul and his brothers but also about the entire town of Marias Coulee.
It’s not fast paced but it’s a story that will draw you in. it’s historical fiction with a bit of a mystery and a fabulous cast of characters.