“Only when our first hour or so of riding carried us above that west edge of the coulee would we see the mountains in total, their broad bases of timber and rockfall gripping into the foothills. And the reefs. Roman reef ahead of us, a rimrock half a mile high and more than three long. Grizzly Reef even bigger to the south of it, Jericho Reef to the north. I don’t know, are mountain reefs general knowledge in the world?”
I’m not usually a fan of westerns, but Ivan Doig’s novel set in the foothills of the Montana Rocky Mountains may just have changed my mind about that. The tale is narrated by Jick McCaskill, a fourteen year old boy who is on the verge of manhood. But this isn’t just a coming of age story. It’s a well researched novel about the ranching life in the midst of the Great Depression. In addition, Doig takes the reader into the world of the forest rangers, and how they and the ranchers must work together to preserve their fragile way of life. From outside economic forces to nature’s thunderbolts, it seems like the odds are against them. But therein lies the beauty of the story. To see men rise to the occasion, in the midst of great adversity, is the foundation of the great American novel. In my mind, English Creek is exactly that.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1984