BOOKS: BUILDING LIVES IN MONTANA

THE POWER OF GEOGRAPHY IN A BIG, ROISTERING NOVEL

Montana novelist Ivan Doig sets himself a challenge in his big, roistering new novel, Bucking the Sun (Simon & Schuster; 412 pages; $23). His subject--not just the book's setting but also the presence that rules its composition--is a monstrous, chancy construction project in the mid-1930s, the huge Fort Peck dam across the Missouri River in Montana bottomland.

To save his novel from the curse of what used to be called socialist realism, Doig must come up with characters large enough to symbolize the unruly river and the vast dam in combat as construction proceeds, but sufficiently strong and gritty in their...

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