Mink River By Brian Doyle

    FREE READ Mink River

    Review and excerpt from this poetic and episodic novel are now posted here:

    https://www.kencraftauthor.com/?s=min... Mink River Audiobook…read by David Drummond
    ….12 hours and 31 minutes

    Neawanaka is a small coastal Oregon town. The allure and charm of the surroundings was pure artistry….
    …..creeks, rivers, sand, soil, rocks, birds, trees, rain, fog,….other gorgeously written experiences of nature features.
    The descriptive lyric prose of nature’s beauty was pristine…poetic…..sometimes almost rhythmic sounding like notes and chords.
    Even the narration- the varied stories - the characters- was euphonious and beautifully scored for strings….
    “Mink River”….had stylistic instrumental soul.

    As for the stories themselves … there’s an abundance of them…. As well as numerous characters.
    ….Daniel, a twelve year old is rescued by a bear in the woods from a bike accident.
    ….His grandfather, named Worried Man, was highly attuned to others pain. Perhaps it was ‘synaesthesia’…or maybe just cosmic powers. Native American omnipotence….as in ‘all power’.
    ….Worried Man didn’t shy away from dangerous missions.
    ….He and his friend Cedar undertake a calling…a dangerous expedition….
    ….a police officer who loves opera, a doctor who smokes thirteen cigarettes a day, and names them for the apostles, a teenage couple in love,
    ….Moses ….was the philosophizing talking crow.

    This is not a fast paced story but it was really gorgeous. Even Paul my husband was hooked ….
    There’s mystery, bullies, economic struggles, oral cultural history, danger, tragedies and triumphs….
    The Irish and Native Americans…make for a wonderful diversified community.

    An ‘awe-inspiring’ one-of-a-kind novel ….quirky, sleepy, entertaining….
    Thumbs up for small coastal towns….and the preciousness of down-home folks - animals - minerals and the value of community.

    Mink River “That’s why we have wings, you know. To go find stories.”

    So says a character named Moses in the superb novel, Mink River. Brian Doyle describes him thusly (p43):
    “Moses, who had been taught to speak by a shy nun who found him broken in the mud, is intricately courteous and circumspect; also he has a dry humor and a corvidian cast of mind, as he likes to say, that combine to make his remarks intriguing.”

    Note the phrase: “as he likes to say.” And that the curious word, “corvidian,” has as its root, corvidae: the family of birds including crows.
    Yes, Moses is a crow. A talking one. A fucking smart, gabby, philosophizing bird.
    And he gets more lines than some of the human characters in this novel. AND he is plastered all over the cover of the book.

    Okay, sure, there’s a bit of the fantastic, of what some might call magic realism* in this novel. But not “too much.” And rather than tacked on, it arises naturally from the animistic traditions of the People, whose world building myths are heavily populated with animals. The human characters in this novel set on the Oregon coast are largely populated by members of Northwest coast American Indian tribes and by descendants of settlers from Ireland. Both groups are notable for their prolific, fanciful story-telling traditions. Happily, this Native + Irish ambience is all over this book, and the prose itself sings in—forgive me—a lovely tenor, ala, say, that dude in the Chieftains. (I cringe just a little writing that, but it’s kinda-sorta accurate).
    As David James Duncan put it so well, “In its sights, settings, insinuations, flora and fauna, (Doyle’s) tale is quintessentially North Coast, but in its sensibility and lilt this story is as Irish as tin whistles—and the pairing is an unprecedented delight…Doyle’s sleights of hand, word, and reality burr up off the page the way bit of heather burr out of a handmade sweater yet the same sweater is stained indigenous orange by a thousand Netarts Bay salmonberries.”

    Yes, and I’d add that Doyle’s dazzling, unique style borrows as much from poetry as it does Irish prose. At times he incorporates rhyme, alliteration, repetition of words and syllables. The paragraphs are sometimes long, with clauses often connected with series of “and” (ala Cormac McCarthy and others). And Doyle omits dialogue marks, but let me assure you he knows exactly how to properly do this. Not once did I long for them. Please note that below are numerous examples of Doyle's verbal wizardry. (See also my quotes, as always, for selections from quotes already posted by others for this book).

    Here and there, he gives us two disparate scenes (nearly) at once, told in alternating sentences. I don’t remember ever seeing something like that before. It works beautifully. Hmm… he does this exactly twice. On p.114, and --114 pages later-- on p. 228. Coincidence? As playful as Doyle is, I’d guess it was quite by design.

    What else? Dramatically-wise, this is an episodic novel. The conflicts are largely every-day ones, with intermittent tragedies. No one has money. No Horses (aka Nora) suffers from depression. Crime is low, though there are occasional domestic disturbances, child endangerment. A man is kidnapped. And there is a fellow with no name other than “The man with 17 days to live” (then 8… 6 days … hours). A boy’s legs are broken in an accident. A man is killed by a log flying off a truck. Frustrated that his herd of milk cows is worthless, a man shoots them, allowing for a huge bbq for the entire town. Worried Man (aka Billy) and Cedar seek to uncover the secrets of time in an ice cave in the mountains when they aren't counting insects and measuring rainfall for the (multi-purpose, obviously) Dept. of Public Works …. Never were these little stories anything other than, for me, fascinating. And the characters are wonderful. There are many of them (you might want to make a list because even the lesser characters appear multiple times). They are fully drawn. A few are quirky as you might expect, but it isn’t overdone in the slightest.

    I absolutely loved this gorgeous novel. The characters, the superb prose, the dramas in this picturesque setting. I’d put in a tie with City of Bohane as my favorite book of the year so far.
    Both books are near-guaranteed for my Favorites shelf, but I'll refrain from adding until I've read them at least twice.

    --Mary Miller Doyle's charmingly rough map of Neawanaka

    A personal note. As it happens, I read this book but didn’t time to review it before leaving on a 6 day trip to, very coincidentally … Portland and the central Oregon coast. Reading it and revisiting Oregon made us pine (pun!) for the Northwest, where I lived for my first 31 years, four of them adjacent to an Indian reservation in Bellingham where my wife worked.

    *I’ll get this out of the way before I go on to excerpts. Some describe this novel, in part, as magic realism. The sadly late Brian Doyle rejected this characterization. In reference to the sentient non-human animal characters in his story, he said there is too much we don’t know about animals to call anything out of the usual “magical.” I’d also add that animism and anthropomorphic animals are prevalent in the American Indian story telling tradition. When you consider, say, some of the strange, impossible findings of quantum physics?-- talking crows isn’t all that weird of a thing in the overall scheme of things.

    Brian Doyle 1956-2017

    On pp 201-22 is an amazing scene, too long for me to type, that describes the eleven-minute life of a tiny fetus, post-miscarriage:
    … and between her legs her son the size of a finger is born into the river and he spins away end over end a tiny silver bird flying toward the sea…. past a blue heron who snaps at him thinking him a fish, and past Anna Christie rocking and singing with Sara also singing .... and past a merganser duck with eight ducklings soon to be seven courtesy of the female mink watching them ... and enters the ancient patient ocean, where all stories end, where all stories are born.

    pg 35
    Worried Man notes the hour—golden russet slanting light, the hour when the angle of the sun heading toward the ocean illuminates everything seemingly from inside, so that plants glow greenly with their bright green souls naked to the naked joyous eye.

    Her fingers combed through her hair as the river quietly roared by and her hair looked like the river when salmon were whirling their way through it like living threads through living cloth…and all he wanted at that moment was to run his fingers through the cascading living water of her hair, the flashes of every other color in it depending on the light, her eyes like that too, flashing in green and brown, her hair and eyes rebellious and alive.

    And there is a moment there, as Sara stands by the fence humming, when everyone is town is singing… Worried Man is humming a war song his grandfather taught him from the time the People went to war with those crazy Cheamhills … Anna is standing knee-deep in the river and singing with the baritone groaning of the river rumbling rocks, and George Christie is singing a lewd logging song into the telephone … Even the young female bear is singing, or humming, or making a music deep inside her, a long contented basso throbbing thrumming that fills the tiny cave where she has curled around her two new cubs; and they are singing too, two high sweet notes never heard before in all the long bubbling troubling endless bruised pure violent innocent bloody perfect singing of the burly broken mewling world.

    The dusk deepens infinitesimally minute by minute, as if someone was adding grains of darkness to the bowl of brimming light on the field, and at exactly the right sifting moment for swifts to appear they appear far overhead, chittering and flittering, taking over the sky from the barn swallow, who swirl and whirl into their muddy tenements and fold themselves up tightly and cleanly as gleaming blinking blue and black and orange knives.

    For three days there has been nothing but ice and sky. No trees or bushes or flowers or even a sturdy nutty little mat of plants hiding from the wind. Not even lichen or moss. Ungreen, disgreen, greennot. There is white and there is blue. The primary colors. Blue made white and white melted to allow all the others. That’s how it must have happened.

    Declan dozing on the bow in the broad calm light thinks sleepily of sails and the lovely windy words of the craft of enslaving air. Yardarms and lugsails, gaffs and rigs, jigs and boom, luff and clew and tack. Boats buffeted by breezes.

    Finally, from Ken Craft's review, the second half of the remarkable last section of the book:

    New trout, having never seen rain on the river, rise eagerly to ripples on the Mink. Some windows close against the moist and some open for the music. Rain slips and slides along hawsers and chains and ropes and cables and gladdens the cells of mosses and weighs down the wings of moths. It maketh the willow shiver its fingers and thrums on doors of dens in the fens. It falls on hats and cats and trucks and ducks and cars and bars and clover and plover. It grayeth the sand on the beach and fills thousands of flowers to the brim. It thrills worms and depresses damselflies. Slides down every window rilling and murmuring. Wakes the ancient mud and mutter of the swamp, which has been cracked and hard for months. Falls gently on leeks and creeks and bills and rills and the last shriveled blackberries like tiny dried purple brains on the bristles of bushes. On the young bear trundling through a copse of oaks in the woods snorffling up acorns. On ferns and fawns, cubs and kits, sheds and redds. On salmon as long as your arm thrashing and roiling in the river. On roof and hoof, doe and hoe, fox and fence, duck and muck. On a slight man in a yellow slicker crouched by the river with his recording equipment all covered against the rain with plastic wrap from the grocery store and after he figures out how to get the plastic from making crinkling sounds when he turns the machine on he settles himself in a little bed of ferns and says to the crow huddled patiently in rain, okay, now, here we go, Oral History Project, what the rain says to the river as the wet season opens, project number …something or other … where’s the fecking start button? …I can’t see anything … can you see a green light? yes? is it on? damn my eyes … okay! there it is! it’s working! rain and the river! here we go! Mink River I thought this was going to be a bit chaotic, but it wasn't. It was certainly the best read of 2020 so far.

    Moses the Crow, with his mouthy wisdoms and his courage, got me going page after page after page, and he wasn't the main character at all. Mmmm...wait... perhaps he was, after all.

    He mourned the death of the elderly nun who rescued him and taught him to communicate. He adored psalms. Sometimes he maneuvered a few new moves while flying, just to feel like an eagle or something else that might fancy him. Sometimes, in flight, he would snap at mosquitoes just to experience what is was like to be a swift. Most of the time he was quite successful...

    Moses just knew how to bond a community together. He had a bird's eye insight into what was happening in town, that humans were not as aware of. And remember, he could talk...

    The ambiance of the book, with a touch of magic realism, and the lyrical prose, had me excited again to read a book and really enjoy it. This was not only word-magic, it was also unique, and so refreshing!

    Cedar, the mystery man who once came floating into town, unconscious and blessed with memory loss, got the Department Of Public Works going with his dear friend, actually the man who rescued him from drowning. He suspected a kind of god complex since he had it in his head that they should fix people, instead of doing maintenance on the highways, stream beds and storm drains. His best friend, William Mohan, also known as Worried Man, married to Maple Head, the teacher, could not walk down the street, or enjoy dinner at his own home when someone's pain came calling in his head. Thus it happened that these two gentlemen became known as the town's rescuers.

    Worried Man: But we are also prey to what I might call a vast and overwhelming ambition. I mean, really, to preserve history, collect stories, repair marriages, prevent crime, augment economic status, promote chess, manage insect populations, run sports leagues, isn’t that a bit much? We even give haircuts.
    It's not that they can compare themselves with Joan of Arc, or less known by her real name Jeanne La Pucelle of Domrémy. She changed history.

    Perhaps they couldn't, but they sure changed the future for this old fishing- and logging village who were cash strapped and prone to that dark room called depression. In hard times, the less agreeable side tends to rule. That's a diplomatic statement. Cruelty might be a better choice of word. It was no different in this small village. Children suffer the most.

    Twelve-year-old Daniel Cooney, Worried Man's grandson, had to figure his nutty family out. He had ample time when he had a cycling accident and had to stay in bed for a few weeks. His dad was Irish; his Irish granddad died building a road that went nowhere; his Irish grandmother lived on a hill in Ireland which she refused to leave; his granddad from here thinks about time all the time and feels other people's pain in his head; his grandmother from here is the strictest teacher in the history of the world; his mom Nora, real name No Horses, can hear wood talk and identify colors by their smells. Owen Cooney taped stories for his son Daniel and worked with that talking Crow. Moses loves to sit on the old Oregon State University helmet in Owen's workshop which is crammed with automobile parts and assorted related ephemera. Owen and Moses were friends since the nun brought him in for repairs, years ago.

    There was the mama bear who loved to read the New York Times at the Department of Public Works, and the multitude of other characters introducing humanity to the reader in all our splendor. Warts and all.

    The Oregon coast became a multilayered trail of stories and backstories. Whether it was voyages or journeys, the reader is taken back to the hills of Ireland, as well as the wonder mountains of snow somewhere in Oregon, where Time might be waiting for Cedar and Worried Man to explain the meaning of life as we know and love it. That was a Bucket List wish that only two best friends could understand.

    The towns folks came together when Daniel had his accident. Even the mama bear had her story to fit in.

    Different events in town brought courage and determination out in everyone. There was Timmy and Rachel, Sara and Michael, George Christie and his daughter Cyra, Red Hugh O'Donell, father of Declan, Grace, Paeder and Niall, and Nicholas and his dad. The doctor knew the most about everyone, even the man in the brown coat, and the man who lied in court. They were all peripheral characters whose lives became new stories to tell. The stories were all changing by the minute, all swirling and braiding and weaving and spinning and stitching themselves one to another ...

    It is truly a warm, often humorous and heartfelt read, written with so much compassion and talent for storytelling. This is one of those novels that I would love to read again. That seldom, if ever, happens.

    RECOMMENDED! Mink River Just an incredible book that is hard to describe because it contains the world. Taking place in a small town in Oregon, telling stories of past and present, giving us characters that we love and care about, even , (or especially,) Moses, the crow, it's all written in the most amazing, soaring language that is transcendent.

    This was Doyle's first novel. The Plover was his second, which I read 5 years ago, but I was happy to realize that The Plover and Declan O'Donnell got their start in this book.

    Absolutely recommended. Mink River


    The language, the writing style, the people, the philosophy? All great. I can't help but cry. I'm crying for the people in the book who died, who were lost, who were injured. I'm crying because not everyone dies when they could have. I'm crying because some people heal. Because some children heal. And because some people get to have love, give love, remain in love, which is so beautiful to walk among, my footsteps causing no distraction. I'm crying, too, because for some there is no love. I now believe a crow can talk his wise thoughts in perfectly lucid English sentences, that bear language can be written down and explained, that the people who populate the area of Mink River are real and that if I just happened to wander north to Neawanaka, I could stop in at Grace's pub and go visit No Horses's sculpture studio and if I were lucky, could sit at the dining table with Worried Man and Maple Head and Daniel and Owen and then go sit with Cedar outside the Department of Public Works as the sun goes down. I'll miss Cedar. I already miss them all. Brian Doyle has written a fine book. Mink River 2 failure as a reader star !!

    DNF at 19 %

    My deepest apologies to the author and Candi.

    As beautiful and evocative as the book is...I cannot connect and I don't want to persevere and get frustrated.

    I will leave this book to others that can connect and appreciate this book of poetic prose.

    Mink River I haven't enjoyed a book this much in sooooooo long! Set in a tiny coastal Oregon town, this story is populated with characters who seem to leap off the page and speak their lines directly into your ear: they are that real. Brian Doyle breaks all the good writing rules, yet this book is rich and layered and beautiful and profound. Riotous and complex, Doyle's lush tale compels you to read faster than you'd like, because you can't stand not knowing just what the heck is going to happen here. Every sentence is a tiny jewel you want to roll around on your tongue and slowly savor. Quirky, unique and delightful, the tale of Neawanaka gets under your skin and lives inside you. Go read it! Mink River Mink River is a legend of the town… It is a myth of its fabulous inhabitants… Brian Doyle is a true lover of parlance… The novel is fizzing froth of words…

    Not an especially stunning town, stunningtownwise – there are no ancient stone houses perched at impossible angles over eye-popping vistas with little old ladies in black shawls selling goat cheese in the piazza while you hear Puccini faintly in the background sung by a stunning raven-haired teenage girl who doesn’t yet know the power and poetry of her voice not to mention her everything else.

    The town surely is unlike any old European town – it is more like a smallish anthill…
    At work in clay or wood or stone she stares, she breathes evenly, she is riveted, she is lost. No phone. Music gently. Bach when she is in stone, rock and roll in clay, jazz in wood.

    She sculpts her dummies and in the similar manner Brian Doyle sculpts his characters… And similar to her mannequins his characters are just shapes without souls… They are full of activity… But there’s no life… They talk, drink, fuck and die merrily…
    …they sing themselves and their names in their languages, and Hugh finds that he too is singing chanting saying praying his song, his name in the old language, the language he was born into, Aoidh! Aoidh! he sings, smiling and turning slowly end over end as he rises through the lowering light with everything else that has recently died, all of them singing to the sea.

    To be born, to grow up, to procreate and to die – ants live the same way. Mink River 4.5 stars

    Sometimes I think that all people in all times must have had the same joys and sorrows... Everyone thinks that the old days were better, or that they were harder, and that modern times are chaotic and complex, or easier all around, but I think people’s hearts have always been the same, happy and sad, and that hasn’t changed at all. It’s just the shape of lives that change, not lives themselves.

    This beautifully lyrical, captivating novel is unlike anything I can recall having read before. There are a multitude of characters, the people that inhabit the town of Neawanaka on the coast of Oregon. The Mink River runs right through the middle of town. Much like the twists and turns of the river, the stories of the people are ever changing. Each thread is essential to the fabric of this grand tapestry of life.

    … so many stories, all changing by the minute, all swirling and braiding and weaving and spinning and stitching themselves one to another and to the stories of creatures in that place, both the quick sharp-eyed ones and the rooted green ones and the ones underground and the ones too small to see, and to stories that used to be here, and still are here in ways that you can sense sometimes if you listen with your belly, and the first green shoots of stories that will be told in years to come…

    Mink River is episodic in nature, but it all comes together with such elegance. The expressiveness of the novel points to the fact that indeed Brian Doyle was not just a writer of novels and essays; he was also a gifted poet. Many of the sentences are structured as in the quote above. At first the run-on quality of the writing gave me pause. As did the element of magical realism. It didn’t take me long to completely forget about these literary stylistic devices, however. Rather, I fell completely under the spell.

    The inhabitants of Neawanaka are everyday people with struggles and joys. Everyone has a story to share with one another. And the stories are what lift them up. I loved so many of these characters. Some of them are descendants of The People, an unnamed tribe of Native Americans that settled on the coast thousands of years ago. Some of them trace their ancestry to those who suffered from The Hunger in Ireland. Some are a mix of both. One is not even a person at all, although this little peculiarity often slipped my mind. Moses is a crow. A crow who can think, talk and laugh. He’s even a hero. Some of the most moving scenes in the entire book have Moses front and center.

    Moses, who had been taught to speak by a shy nun who found him broken in the mud, is intricately courteous and circumspect; also he has a dry humor and a corvidian cast of mind, as he likes to say, that combine to make his remarks intriguing.

    Such a kaleidoscopic cast of characters grace the pages of this book – two best friends who run The Department of Public Works and do far more than fix roads and sewer lines (they even give haircuts); a doctor who names his cigarettes after the Apostles; a man who sells boxes and can count down the number of days he has left in this world; a cop who is obsessed with Puccini’s Tosca; a twelve-year old boy who wears his hair in braids like his legendary Irish hero; the owner of the town pub who wonders how she got to this point in her life; an artist who is going through a crisis; a brother and sister who have been abandoned by one parent and mistreated by another; and many more too numerous to name but each as significant as the next. Not one life is minimized. We come to understand what makes each of them tick, and it’s all so impactful when one thinks about what this means in this great big world of ours. Nature itself is a character. Not just the animals, but the ocean, the river, the forest. All of it. Everything matters.

    The way hawks huddle their shoulders angrily against hissing snow. Wrens whirring in the bare bones of bushes in winter. They way swallows and swifts veer and whirl and swim and slice and carve and curve and swerve. The way that frozen dew outlines every blade of grass. Salmonberries thimbleberries cloudberries snowberries elderberries salalberries gooseberries. My children learning to read. My wife’s voice velvet in my ear at night in the dark under the covers…

    I could go on and share more of these exquisite lines, but it’s best to experience the rest on your own. This is a remarkable book that blends magical realism, folklore, and pure, simple, ordinary lives together to illustrate the beauty in each individual creature, person, or piece of creation. I have just discovered Brian Doyle, only to learn that he passed away a couple of years ago. While we won’t be enriched with any new work, I am pleased to see that there is a wonderful backlist that I can look forward to. Highly recommended if you are a fan of strikingly lyrical writing and a good dose of magical realism - even if you aren’t, you just might want to give this a try. I’m sure glad I did.

    There’s a story in everything and the more stories I hear the less sad I am. Mink River

    Like Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Brian Doyle's stunning fiction debut brings a town to life through the jumbled lives and braided stories of its people.

    In a small fictional town on the Oregon coast there are love affairs and almost-love-affairs, mystery and hilarity, bears and tears, brawls and boats, a garrulous logger and a silent doctor, rain and pain, Irish immigrants and Salish stories, mud and laughter. There's a Department of Public Works that gives haircuts and counts insects, a policeman addicted to Puccini, a philosophizing crow, beer and berries. An expedition is mounted, a crime committed, and there's an unbelievably huge picnic on the football field. Babies are born. A car is cut in half with a saw. A river confesses what it's thinking. . .

    It's the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book more than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world.

    Mink River