Mink River (Doyle)

Mink River
Brian Doyle
Oregon State University Press
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780870715853

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
In addition to Mink River, Brian Doyle has published twelve books, including Grace Notes, Bin Laden's Bald Spot & Other Stories, Thirsty for the Joy: Australian and American Voices, and Epiphanies and Elegies. He edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland.

Doyle’s essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, American Scholar, and in newspapers and magazines around the world. His essays have also been reprinted in the annual Best American Essays, Best American Science & Nature Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Community is the beating heart of this fresh, memorable debut with an omniscient narrator and dozens of characters living in Neawanaka, a small coastal Oregon town. Daniel Cooney, a 12-year-old who wears his hair in three different-colored braids, has a terrible bike accident in the woods and is rescued by a bear. Daniel's grandfather, Worried Man, is able to sense others' pain even from a distance and goes on a dangerous mountain mission to track down the source of time with his dear friend, Cedar. Other key stories involve a young police officer whose life is threatened, a doctor who smokes one cigarette for each apostle per day, a lusty teenage couple who work at a shingle factory, and a crow who can speak English. The fantastical blends with the natural elements in this original, postmodern, shimmering tapestry of smalltown life that profits from the oral traditions of the town's population of Native Americans and Irish immigrants. Those intrigued by the cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest will treasure every lyrical sentence.
Publishers Weekly

Stories that sing in many voices, "braided and woven…leading one to another," shape Doyle's debut novel.... Verdict: Award-winning essayist Doyle writes with an inventive and seductive style that echoes that of ancient storytellers. This lyrical mix of natural history, poetry, and Salish and Celtic lore offers crime, heartaches, celebrations, healing, and death. Readers who appreciate modern classics like Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio or William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying will find much to savor here. Enthusiastically recommended. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Library Journal

The prosaic and the spiritual merge in a portrait of life in a small Oregon town. Doyle's debut novel makes heavy demands on the reader's capacity to suspend disbelief: In the Pacific Coast village of Neawanaka, a crow is an intimate confidante; a bear kindly steps in to save a human life; and the nature of time is somehow lurking in the nearby mountains.The humans who inhabit this place are earthbound folk, though, and Doyle's main point is to show how the mystical can influence otherwise ordinary lives.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Some have described the writing style in Mink River as: stream of consciousness, like a babbling brook, or a lullaby. What did you think of the style?

2. What are your thoughts on the structure of the story; did you like the alternating chapters, interwoven plot lines?

3. What role does the Oregon Coast play as a setting for the story? Is this setting essential? Why or why not?

4. What do you think of Cedar’s reply to No Horses about habits and people who helped him get through dark times? Based on your own life experiences, is there a piece of advice you’d add to what he says?

5. Which characters in the book show the “certain ferocious attention to things” that Cedar describes? What are some examples, and can you name ways this habit has helped those characters through dark times?

6. Story telling is an important activity for several characters in the book. Do you have stories within your own family that you have passed along? Why does the author seem to think that story telling is important?

7. How do you feel about how death of the various characters is portrayed in Mink River? Consider the characters’ types, how they died and how their experience just after death is described.

8. What did you think of Moses? Did you like the idea of a talking crow? What do you think of magical realism in general?

9. The Department of Public Works handled much more than city maintenance. Do you think there is a place for a department of public works of this nature within your own city?

10. Discuss the community of Neawanka: its strengths and weaknesses.

11. What do you think the source of Nora’s pain—she says it is “no hope”, what does she mean? Is her pain ever resolved?

12. Abuse is featured in the book, how do you think this difficult subject was handled?

13. Each character within the book is either struggling or searching. Choose a character and describe the struggle or search and describe also the resolution, if any.

14. How are music, art, and language important aspects of Mink River’s community?

15. Describe some of the themes presented in the book. Are there any that you relate to?

16. What do you think Worried Man will be able to offer his family and community as a result of his stroke?

17. Discuss the doctor’s life and his role in the community and his study of the Bible.

18. What happened when Sara’s baby first made a sound; what was the sound and what affect did it have on the family?

19. What was your reaction when Declan killed his cows? What did you think of the consequence, i.e. how the community responded?

20. Share any other impressions you have of the book. Does the author’s style remind you of any other authors? Does Mink River remind you of any other books?
(Questions courtesy of author and Oswego, Oregon, Public Library.)

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