Growing up in a small coastal town, Mink River by Oregon author Brian Doyle drew locals more than other types of stories. Published the year I graduated from high school, this book was on my must-read list until college distracted me. He came back to my list when I walked into Grassroots and saw him sitting on a shelf, appearing to call out to the small town girl who lived deep inside me.
Mink River is a breathtaking story, told from multiple angles of people, animals and natural features all existing in or around a small town on the Oregon coast called Neawanaka. The townspeople each have their own professions, stories, pains and sorrows, and Doyle perfectly blends those lives into a tale rich in beauty and unique in its form.
What I liked
When I first started reading I was struck by the style Doyle chose to tell the story. Each part is broken down into what can only be called chapters, the longest of which is only about one page. Each chapter is told from one or two perspectives, perhaps from human residents, but also through the eyes of a beloved crow, river, or mother bear. While I wasn’t sure I liked this format at first, it made more sense as I progressed through the book. The style is fascinating in its demand for the reader to pay close attention.
This book does not reveal everything. Switching between multiple storylines and characters, Doyle weaves together a brilliant narrative that’s intense in content but sweet in delivery. The reader is dragged by the river, overflown by the crow over the city, and confined to a hospital bed by injuries.
Finally, I loved the combination of cultures and histories present among the people of Neawanaka. With some families hailing from Ireland and England, others were members of local tribes, living in the same place for thousands of years. Stories of hunger and famine mixed with those of the Four Winds, in a beautiful tapestry of history, family and folklore.
What was missing
The middle of the book slowed down considerably. It took a little while to get back into the story, but I was delighted with how the narrative picked up speed on reading. In the end, I was holding my breath, waiting to see how things would turn out.
In addition, the frequent lack of punctuation, especially in dialogues, has often been difficult for me. Acknowledging the author’s choice not to include excessive punctuation, I found it a bit distracting – often having to stop and re-read to understand the conversations between the characters. In short, a small price to pay for the power accumulated in this text.
I sincerely enjoyed reading Mink River this month. It’s a fascinating story told by a real blacksmith. The descriptions are charming and embody the complicated beauty of life on the coast. I would recommend this book to an adult audience as there are several intense themes included in the story. Mink River would make a great gift, as well as a fabulous travel companion on all your vacation trips.
About the Author
Brian Doyle is the author of a significant number of books, articles, novels and more during his lifetime. He graduated in English from the University of Notre Dame in 1978, becoming the editor of Portland in 1991 – who received the Sibley Award for News week in 2005 under his leadership. He died of brain cancer in May 2017.
According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, âIn an interview shortly before the end of his life, he reflected, ‘If I could say something to everyone, I would say thank you. I am quietly very proud to have been called an Oregon writer.
To hear the author, check out the link above to an interview with Doyle by Wire under tension.
Published by Oregon State University Press in 2010, Mink River is available on Grass Roots Books.
By Kyra Young