The first person who waxed eloquent over Oregon author Brian Doyle’s Mink River (Oregon State University Press, $18.95) was a sportswriter for the Salt Lake Tribune. The second was a lovely woman I met at recent Planned Parenthood fundraiser who had read it with her book club. Doyle’s lovely Pacific Northwest tale with drops of magical realism appeals to people from all walks of life. The author of this novel, which The Oregonian called “shimmering” when it came out in 2010, will be at the downtown Eugene Public Library 2 pm Sunday, Sept. 22.
Doyle populates the fictional coastal town of Neawanaka with peculiar and entrancing cast of characters: a crow named Moses (taught to speak by a nun who read him the philosophy of Edmund Burke), Worried Man and Cedar of the Department of Public Works, school teacher Maple Head, artist No Horses and Daniel, a boy with three braids whose bike accident pulls the threads of the tale together. Mink River captures the rain-soaked Northwest with a flavor of salt, of salmonberries and some indigenous and Irish mixed in.
The interwoven inhabitants of Neawanaka dwell where the mission statement for the Department of Public Works includes that the department will “at all times practicable offer its services to residents, of all species, in matters having to do with public assistance and education, under any conceivable, or to be conceived, definition of public work.” They dwell where Gaelic is spoken and Salish tales are told, where policemen listen to Puccini and lives are braided together like the channels of the fictional Mink River itself.
Mink River won high praise from fellow Northwest author David James Duncan (The River Why, The Brothers K) who writes: “The hauntings and shadows, shards of dark and bright, usurpations by wonder, lust, blarney, yearning, are coast-mythic in flavor but entirely bardic at heart.”
And Molly Gloss, the author of my favorite historical-Sasquatch novel Wild Life, calls Doyle’s work “richly imagined, distinctive, beautiful.”
Read Mink River on your next camping trip, outing to the coast or the next time you have a moment to curl up with a book as the rainy season starts in Oregon. And come to the library on Sunday to hear Doyle speak about his life and work as a writer, including “headlong tales and chanted snippets of work having to do with miraculous and hilarious children, adamant hawks, excellent shoes, the snarl of war, the prayer of laughter, the salt and song and shaggy grace of Oregonness, brief lessons in basic Gaelic, side jaunts into why basketball is the coolest of sports and other pressing matters.” The free talk is part of the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour, a program of Literary Arts.