“Poetry under the prose”

Ivan Doig is often considered a regional writer. Forget that. He is simply one of the best American writers going. For his last book, 2006’s The Whistling Season, he did an interview for his publisher in which he said: “My eight or nine published poems showed me that I lacked the poet’s final skill, the one Yeats called closing a poem with the click of a well-made box. But I still wanted to stretch the craft of writing toward the areas where it mysteriously starts to be art. It was back then that I began working on what my friend Norman Maclean [A River Runs Through It] referred to as the secret of writers like him and me: poetry under the prose. Rhythm, word choice, and premeditated lyrical intent are the elements of this type of writing. In the diary I kept while working on This House of Sky, I vowed to try to have a “trap of poetry” in the book’s every sentence. I suppose that inclination is visible in all my books.”

It is.

In his perceptive New York Times review of The Whispering Season, Sven Berkerts ponders Doig’s work in light of “the breakwall of irony…the taint of knowingness, of wised-up cynicism”: “Is a novelist like Doig simply writing past the circumstance of the now, high-tailing it back to a time before the Fall (whichever Fall we prefer, 9/11 being the latest by common consensus), escaping deeper engagement with the cultural now? Or is this in fact a triumphant reclaiming of terrain through a leap of imagination? The care Doig takes with language suggests to me the latter—this is a deeply meditated and achieved art. But I also suspect many readers will have to keep fighting off the ironist’s defense, a hip condescension toward what seems just too decent to be real, too good to be true.”

If traps of poetry and deeply meditated and achieved art (and good stories) appeal to you, Doig is your man. Fight off your hip condescension. He’s not too good to be true. He’s just good.

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