Mysterious Book Report Bucking The SunBucking The Sun by Ivan Doig

Simon & Shuster, 1996, $23.00, 410 pages, ISBN 0-684-81171-5

Had to dig down to the bottom back of the bookshelf for this week’s Mysterious Book Report.  It’s one that’s been out for a time, having been published in the mid 1990’s.  I read it years ago and passed the volume on to someone else . . . which I came to regret as I was writing The Neversink Chronicles, because it’s about the same subject: dam building and the confiscation of private property.  Now, thanks to the efforts of my beautiful wife June . . . who haunts the local used bookstores like a literary wraith . . . I have a near-mint copy of Bucking The Sun by Ivan Doig to review.  Although you may have to enlist the help of one of those foxy librarians and dig a little bit to find a reading copy, it’s worth the effort because Ivan Doig is one of America’s best, most iconic and most underappreciated writers.  In my opinion that’s a crying shame.  Those of you unfamiliar with his work, who take the time and effort to read him, will be well-rewarded with a new author for their favorites list.

Bucking The Sun takes place in the 1930s in eastern Montana.  Its subject is the damming up of the Missouri River at FortPeck . . .  an inspired, monumental and tragic undertaking.  The novel follows the travails of the Duff clan, who go from being bottomland farmers to displaced, landless, and homeless persons, then to being gainfully employed and prosperous while building the dam itself . . . and finally back to penury when construction is finished.  Sound familiar?  ‘To “buck the sun” is to push against the glare of sunrise or sunset,’ to quote the dust jacket, and the Duffs are pushing back against the whole world . . . a world they find themselves in by chance.  And yes Virginia, there’s a murder to solve as well.  This novel is broad in scope, accurate in historical detail and poignant in its story of a family trapped by fate; a victim of circumstances and forces beyond their control.  All readers will enjoy this underappreciated literary treasure from an American Master of the writing craft.  Search him out, read this book.  You’ll not be disappointed.  It’s a gem.


John Dwaine McKenna