Phew did not think I was going to make this one. Just finished the last twenty pages this morning, so you get a new review straight from book to blog!
Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig is the last book Doig wrote before he passed away last year. Doig is the author of one of my favorite books of all time The Whistling Season and a master of his craft. Last Bus to Wisdom wouldn’t be in my top three of Doig’s books but I think it was a fitting end to his career.
Last Bus to Wisdom takes place in the mid-west in the year of 1951. The story follows 11, going on 13, year old Donal who is being shipped off via Greyhound to an aunt he’s never met and an uncle who is “something else,” as Grams tells it, while she has surgery for some “female troubles.”
Traveling from Montana to Manitowoc, Donal meets characters of all sorts and to take his mind off his troubles and get into Believe It or Not, he collects pearls of wisdom and their signatures in his autograph book along the way. After finding trouble here and there he finally arrives at Aunt Kate’s and his troubles only get worse.
Kate is a bossy woman with no interest in child rearing what-so-ever. Donny’s only saving grace is the eccentric Uncle Herman, who he immediately bonds with. After less then two weeks Kate, Herman and Donny have a big blow up and Kate ships Donny back to Montana knowing the state will put him in an orphanage since Grams won’t be able to care for him.
On the bus with no hope Donny is surprised and ecstatic to find Herman the German, who has ditched Kate and plans on roaming the West with Donny for the rest of the summer. What could happen to an 11 year old boy with a penchant for trouble and a one-eyed German “uncle” who may be wanted by the FBI?
Doig’s books with child narrators are some of my favorites. I just love seeing the west of the 50’s from that wide-eyed, taking it all in, perspective. And I loved the idea of seeing the county via the bus and it’s myriad of stops. You get these little snip-its of country as Donny rides the bus that are just wonderful nuggets of descriptive writing. Doig really is a master of setting.
I won’t say this book didn’t have it’s flaws. Parts were slow–especially the ones with Aunt Kate–and I was worried there for a moment that she would be in it the whole story! Thank goodness “The Kate” didn’t last long. But the character building! Every single character you meet in this story was fantastically done. So believable and yet captivating. The hobos, I mean haystakers, were my favorites if I had to pick.
Donny and Herman were such a great pairing and I was so pleased with the ending, especially that last line. Herman reminded me of Morrie in The Whistling Season in that if Doig had lived, I could see him creating another book around him, his character was so memorable.
Although long, this was a great read and a palette cleanser for me after reading so much YA fantasy lately. Worth a read for… anyone. Just a lovely little book.
That’s all for now!