When I started reading Mink River, my first thought was Oh, God, Brian Doyle is one of those writers who thinks he's too artistic for punctuation. I'm the first to admit that I'm a grammar snob, but I generally can't stand that style of writing, particularly the lack of quotation marks for dialogue. I don't find it edgy or unique, just frustrating and difficult to read.

But I kept reading and found a beautiful story about the small town of Neawanaka, Oregon, along the Mink River. Neawanaka is filled with unique, fascinating characters, who feel real and believable despite elements of what I think might be magical realism. (I've never actually read any, not even Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though I keep meaning to remedy this obvious deficiency in my reading experience.) I don't know how to describe the story, though, because the many subplots weren't nearly as important as the way the characters all fit together to create the life of the town. I guess the best thing I can do is to describe some of the characters.

Worried Man and Cedar run the Department of Public Works and consider their mission to be anything and everything that can benefit the town and its residents, including an oral history project, rescuing abused children, and community picnics. Worried Man's wife, Maple Head, teaches sixth grade and and is writing a comprehensive history of the town. Their daughter, No Horses, is a wood sculptor battling depression. Her husband, Owen, repairs anything and everything, working alongside a talking - and thinking - crow named Moses. Their 12-year-old son Daniel dreams of being a professional bicyclist. The teenage and early 20s O Donnell children struggle with their angry father in the wake of their mother's abandonment. Michael the cop patrols the streets of Neawanaka obsessively listening to Puccini's Tosca. And the doctor, whose name we never learn, treats patients in his house overlooking the sea and studies the Acts of the Apostles, smoking one cigarette per apostle each day. And there are many more.

About halfway through, I realized that I liked Mink River not just because of its characters, but because it made me think in a stream of consciousness, in a stream of small details. And I can see how normal punctuation might have changed that. So as much as I generally dislike this writing style (and I maintain that quotation marks would have been nice), I think the book works just the way it is. I'm happy that I stuck with it.
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