Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
In The Whistling Season, after an administrator is charged with telling people in the Montana school system that their rural one-room schoolhouses will be closed, he recalls his childhood as a student in one of those schoolhouses. In 1909, Paul's mother has been dead for a year. The cabin where Paul's father and the three brothers live has fallen into a state of disarray. They find their housekeeper, Rose, through a newspaper ad, a charming and determined woman who whistles as she works, making a sound "just above silence. A least little tingle of air, the lightest music that could pass through lips, yet with a lingering quality that was inescapable." On arrival, Rose introduces an unexpected sidekick, her brother Morris, a man of impressive erudition and mysterious lack of credentials. Despite the latter, when the schoolteacher abruptly departs mid-year, Morris is hired to take her place.
As charming a novel as Rose and Morris are characters, The Whistling Season portrays an early twentieth-century Montana farming community from the perspective of a bright thirteen-year-old. Old enough to see the flaws in his father's sometimes-impractical ideas, Paul is too young to veto them and impulsive enough to get into some daredevil scrapes, like a backwards-in-the-saddle horse race. The novel is lively and entertaining, the author's affection for his characters so rich that readers will find they can muster sympathy, in the end, even for the hapless and violent Turley family. If what holds the novel together is its portrayal of the one-room schoolhouse as the heart of a rural community, what will keep readers turning its pages is the portrayal of its real-as-life characters. (2006, 345 pages)More about The Whistling Season at Powell's Books or Amazon.com