The Bartender’s Tale

bartender's jacketThe Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig

Rusty and his dad Tom Harry live in Gros Ventre, Montana, near The Medicine Lodge, where Tom is “the best bartender who ever lived”. Raised by his aunt In Phoenix until he was 6, Rusty was happy to escape his older cousins to hang out in the bar’s back room, taking inventory and helping clean the bar on Saturdays. Rusty knows his dad loves him, even if he won’t talk about the past, or Rusty’s mother, who is long gone. The guys have soup for breakfast and dinner at a local café. Tom and Rusty occasionally go fishing, though Rusty’s not a fan. In 1960, when Rusty is 12, new owners buy the café, and Rusty makes friends with their daughter Zoe. The pair hang out in the back room, surrounded by stuff customers have bartered for beer, making model airplanes near an air vent, listening to Tom and his customers. When The Medicine Lodge gets an award from a Montana brewery, Tom, Rusty and Zoe travel to a nearby city for a brewery tour, a minor-league baseball game, and a banquet, where Zoe pretends to be Tom’s daughter. Then Delano comes to town, ready to record Missing Voices for the Library of Congress and he wants Tom to introduce him to the mudjacks who built the dam at Fort Peck. At the mudjacks’ reunion, we meet Proxy, who wants her daughter Francine to learn bartending from Tom. Tom is asked to organize the annual fishing derby at the reservoir, the highlight of Gros Ventre’s summer, and a dramatic mudslide ends the day. It’s quite a summer for Rusty and Zoe, and the reader is happy to go along for a glimpse of life in 1960 Montana. Another old-fashioned reading pleasure from the author of The Whistling Season and Work Song.


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