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Review: Last Bus to Wisdom, by Ivan Doig

HERB JOHNSON – GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
In the classic picaresque novel the rogue hero wanders around the countryside becoming involved in various misadventures, perhaps causing a certain amount of restrained havoc along the way. Think Don Quixote sallying forth on his faithful steed Rocinante, with Sancho Panza keeping an eye on things.
Now switch to 11-year-old Donal Cameron travelling across the country in the “dog bus,” which is what everyone calls the Greyhound in this novel. Then have him riding all the way back, accompanied by great uncle Herman playing the role of Sancho Panza.
Donal lives with his grandmother on a ranch in Montana, where Gram is the cook. She has to go into the hospital for a serious operation and, since Donal’s parents are dead, is forced to send him off to her sister in Manitowoc until she recovers. So he gets on the dog bus and the adventure begins.
It’s not that much of an adventure. There is no tilting at windmills. But there is a great deal of plain old human interaction, of the friendly small-town variety. Donal has his treasured memory book in which he collects autographs and wise sayings from just about everyone he meets, on the bus and off.
The memory book serves as an ice-breaker that always leads to a story, which leads to another story. By the time Donal gets to Manitowoc, he has a whole book full of new friends, which is a good thing because Aunt Kate is not at all friendly. She gives him a bed in the attic and puffed rice for breakfast.
Great uncle Herman saves the day. He putters around in his greenhouse all day and welcomes some company. And when Aunt Kate, after only a few weeks, tells Donal she’s shipping him home where he can fend for himself, there’s Herman on the dog bus ahead of him . . . ready to be his companion on the way west where the cowboys live. Herman loves cowboy novels and wants to meet some in the flesh. He also wants to get away from Aunt Kate. So off they go.
This is a quiet, friendly book. Lots of conversation, almost all of it using colourful colloquialisms.
Easy to put down, but good to pick up again.
Wisdom is the name of the town where they wind up.

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