Sweet Thunder Synopsis

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Sweet Thunder

The lure of the American West, this time in the form of a quirky bequest, once again draws Morris Morgan to that “Richest Hill on Earth” and the brawling city of Butte. Morrie and his bride, Grace, alight back into the cauldron of trouble between miners and the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, the Wall Street giant that has made Montana its fiefdom. As surely as day follows night, Morrie’s manifold talents as a wordslinger, spoken and otherwise, are tapped by the fledgling union newspaper, the Thunder,  enlisting his “walking encyclopedia” knowledge not only to write hilariously scathing editorials under a pen name against Anaconda and its kept press, but as the newsroom “morgue” of information. (“Hey, Morgie, who invented the guillotine?”)

With its rush of deadlines and journalistic cast of unforgettable characters amid the clatter of typewriters and jangle of telephones, the novel at one level is a love song to daily newspapers, where author Ivan Doig begin his writing career. At another level, Sweet Thunder  is a domestic romp of Shakespearean proportions, with the confusions of identity as Morrie, Grace, a pair of aged miners with a penchant for expressing themselves in Welsh, and the titanic book-mad librarian, Sam Sandison—aka “the Earl of Hell”—all inhabit a Horse Thief Row mansion threatening to fall down over their ears.

In yet another sense, this novel is a high-spirited, inventive, but historically acute portrait of a conflicted America roaring into the Twenties with Gilded Age antagonisms and Red Scare jitters still on its mind. Through it all, with mortal consequences looming if he slips up, Morrie must use his wits to elude the precipitous situations that somehow seek him out and chase him.

While masterfully fresh in its approach, this third in the trilogy of tales featuring the nimble wordsmith adds, to the compassionate resolution of the Whistling Seasonand its one-room school and the redemptive anthem of Work Song and its polyglot community of miners, a bold declaration of identity and coming to grips with who we—as Americans, as individuals, and as lovers of treasured books—are and wish to be.

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