I don’t know when my love for Montana started; it must have been after reading A river runs through it (Norman Maclean) or The whistling season, also by Ivan Doig, but all I know is that Montana is my favourite place in the world, even though I have never been there.
English Creek is a fictional place in Montana, set in the land of the Two Medicine river where the narrator, Jick McCaskill, a fourteen-year-old boy, lives with his family just after the Great Depression. The story starts when Alec, Jick’s brother, announces to the family that he has decided not to go to university because he is going to marry his girlfriend and he would rather work and live with her. The summer is definitely going to be quite different because this time Jick will be the only one to help his father, a forest officer, with the summer work.
So we are taken through the Two Medicine lands, over the mountains adjacent to Canada, in order to do cattle counting with the McCaskills as well as supplying the farmers who live all the summer far from the villages; or fighting against the forest fires in a time when a crew of one hundred men had to extinguish the fire with no more than their bare hands. But not only is the summer a season for working hard; there is also spare time, like the party of 4 July when Jick meets his family and friends and stories about the first pioneers who came to Montana are told again and again.
This is a novel about a way of life rather than the story of Jick himself; thanks to him we know all kinds of people who lived and worked there at that time, which is also the beginning of changes owing to the big companies that competed with the farmers and, many times, made them give up and look for another place to start again.
It may be slow sometimes, but this is not the kind of book in which you would find a plot full of action; you are going to meet remarkable characters and a boy who is still not a man, but even so is beginning to make up his mind about where and how he wants to live, while thinking of his changing family: Alec is the great absence of the summer, but somehow he is present in every page and Jick talks about it with a great sense of humor.
English Creek was first published in 1984, but I discovered this author recently when a Spanish publishing house began to translate his novels a couple of years ago. I loved The whistling season and I was looking forward to reading more stories set in Montana when English Creek came to Spain – once I got my copy I thought I couldn’t be happier but yes indeed, I was absolutely delighted to read on Goodreads that this is the first book in a trilogy, which means that I will be back in Montana pretty soon 😀 .