Pursuing a Dream Against Many Odds

Prairie Nocturne  By Ivan Diog; Published 2003;Read Dec 27, 2016

This book comes to us from Ivan Doig who was awarded the Wallace Stegner Award in 2007 by the Center for the American West among other accolades.  This story is set in Montana and New York during the Harlem Renaissance and tells the interlocking story of its three main characters:  Wesley Williamson, powerful business leader of a cattle-empire family, Susan Duff, former singer and now voice instructor, and Monty, Wes’s black chauffer with a remarkable voice Wes employs Susan to develop.  As Doig unfolds the story we gain insight into the past of the characters—Wes a successful military leader in the Great War, Susan’s loss of a brother in that war while under Wes’s command, the relationship between Wes and Susan that impacts Wes’ political career, Monty’s boyhood in the Montana fort commanded by John J. Pershing, and the connections they have from childhood.  Wes’s Catholic faith, Monty’s color, Susan’s instruction of Monty, and Monty’s possible success all become targets for the local KKK both in Montana and New York.   Doig’s beautiful writing carries us through this saga of struggle, loyalty, grip of the past, and the pain and rewards of career and passion.   The ending surprised me and, at first disappointed me, seeming in some ways “too nice and tidy”.  However what happens for each of these characters next will remain challenging and some will carry forward a deeper sense of loss than they possessed at the beginning of the story.

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