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 The sprawling tale that Doig, author of the Montana trilogy (English Creek, 1984; Dancing at the Rascal Fair, 1987; and Ride with Me, Moriah Montana, 1990), has been working on for years. Doig grew up in eastern Montana during the Depression, when the Roosevelt Administration built the world's largest earthen dam high on the Missouri River, at Fort Peck. After impressive quantities of research, he has fashioned a Scotch-American family named Duff to tell the dam's story. There are Hugh and Meg, who will be displaced from their hardscrabble farm by the dam's water; their sons Owen, Bruce, and Neil, whose careers and marriages will be shaped by the dam; and the contentious women the sons marry: Charlene, Kate, and especially Rosellen, a frustrated writer who, along with Owen, forms the novel's consciousness. Older brother Owen schools himself as a civil engineer and writes a thesis that lands him the job of chief fill officer even though he's still in his 20s.Through Owen the reader gains a sense of what a massive undertaking the five-year project was, akin to an American great pyramid. The dam is the largest character here, sharing the drama with the ten thousand men and women the project employed; Owen and Rosellen are merely their admirable symbols. Owen becomes obsessed with the river's whims, the treacherousness of steel and gravel and shale, and he loses contact with his wife, Charlene. He falls for Rosellen then--but only briefly, for it is the dam, the great endeavor of his life, that he really loves. The Duffs are believable but not memorable; Steinbeck this writer is not. Doig's real achievement is to chronicle--with empathy and precise, lyrical authority, down to the last load of gravel hauled in a sturdy Ford truck--the magnificent Fort Peck project and the desperate times out of which it arose.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81171-5
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996


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