Published in Spring of 2015, Martin Marten is Brian Doyle’s fourth novel and most recent body of work, it is a coming of age novel written in a lyrical style similar to Gary Paulsen. In this Oregon, mysteries and magic wander alongside the common and day to day.
Our tale begins following the life of Dave, a fourteen year old boy growing up on Mt. Hood, or as it is referred to through the course of the tale, Wy’east. His story runs parallel to the life of Martin, a newly born pine marten, and the smaller stories of a eclectic community living a unique way of life in Oregon.
There is his young sister, Maria, fascinated by topography and inclined for the Mayoral position at age six. His best friend Moon, who’s love of sandwiches and watching basketball are a recurring theme. Mrs. Billy Beaton, who works with Dave’s mother and snowboards and may or may not actually have a husband called Mr. Billy Beaton. Cosmas the bearded bicyclist, Miss Moss, the general store owner and feeder of tourists, the Unabled Lady, Edwin the Horse, and a slew of other residence who shift and move across the mountain and through each other’s lives.
But it is not only the humans (and horse) of the community we witness- through Martin’s eyes we see elk, fox, badger, hawk and even the elusive fisher, all living and dying upon Wy’east. And again and again we witness the small miracle of those rare encounters in the woods, the ones that leave you still and breathless, grateful and hoping, the ones that promise magic just beyond our understanding.
Some of my favorite writing in Marten Martin were the times the narrative stopped and we were given a series of moments, little magics that arise in a flurry from Wy’east and will never be heard of or seen. Clay birds flying from the river bank, bobcats contemplating the sunset, an elk who can never be caught.
Filled with brutal violence and the tenderest of moments, just like life in the woods; Mr. Doyle’s writing is superb, a lovely tumble of descriptions that leave you feeling the moment as strongly as the characters themselves. You feel the lonely freeze of an early snow storm, the soft warmth of the last summer sun, the quiet moments between “I love you” and “I’m leaving”.
The conversations are pure delight, quick and intelligent, poignant ideas appearing and disappearing like they do in real life, the sad truths of growing up, and growing older, of loving and losing and gaining, of patience and kindness and stubbornness.
Mr. Doyle’s writing is lyrical and almost rambling at times, and took me a couple chapters to acclimate to, but once I did it was pure joy, a train of thought that carried you through the woods and into the sun warmed clearings hiding there. And then into the barrows and dens of the residence beyond. A delightful, uncomplicated read that made me laugh and cry and think, I would love a continuation of the tales told, especially Maria’s, but, it is just as wonderful as it’s own story, solitary and untouched by other tales.
Conclusion: Read it again.