Several of us have read the new novel by Larry Watson, Let Him Go. I was chatting with Sharon about the book, and this led to another bookseller saying that they were excited that it was not a coming-of-age-novel, as was the case with Montana 1948 and American Boy. I replied that while there are themes that repeat throughout Watson’s work, only about half of them would touch on this genre; Laura and Sundown, Yellow Moon might be the others. Perhaps because I’d also read The Orchard, his novel about a painter who obsesses over his model in Door County, I hadn’t quite pigeon-holed him. But it's interesting that several folks are calling this a big leap for Watson. (Oops, had to rework this first paragraph, as I confused Sharon with the other bookseller. She hadn't read Watson before, and when I think about it, I think the whole argument was conceptual, not based on the reading of the other books!)
What Sharon loved about the new book, and Jason too, I might add, is the dark rural noir elements of the story. George and Margaret Blackledge at first seem like sweet grandparents who just want their grandson back. With their son dead from a riding accident, their daughter-in-law, previously living with them, has taken to no-good Donnie Weboy, and skipped Dalton-North Dakota for the family ranch in Gladstone, Montana. And Margaret just doesn’t think Donnie and Lorna are going to treat little Jimmy well, or perhaps in him she sees her own son.
Whatever the reason, Margaret convinces George to find the Weboys. But this clan, led by the widowed Darlene, is pretty tough. Everyone they meet tells them to stay clear. Margaret, however, is a women driven, and George has no choice but to follow behind. They’ve got quite the complicated relationship, and their passion and tenderness is also mixed with anger and secrets.
We all know this is going to go badly, and George does too; he pretty much warns Margaret to steer clear of all of them, certainly Uncle Bill, the neat-as-a-pin, cigar-chewing uncle that guides them towards the ranch.
Watson is a master at capturing the mid-century West. It’s the moment when a lot of farmers and ranchers are realizing that there might be better options for them. For some, like George and Margaret’s daughter Janie, it’s moving to a big city to teach. Lorna gets a job at the Montgomery Ward. For the Weboys, it’s staying on the land, but using it to keep their junked cars and parts that they sell. Stolen? Wouldn’t put it past them.
And boy, these folks are dark and hard to read, and one of the things you have to be careful about is whether hospitality is a measure of trustworthiness. Blanche Weboy, after all, throws her doors open to the Blackledges, while some of the most sympathetic characters in the book are more standoffish.
In a way, Let Him Go bookends American Boy and some of other Watson coming-of-age stories. It’s a looking back tale instead of looking forward. But either way you look, the world can be a very dark place. Larry Watson is visiting Boswell on Tuesday, September 10, 7 pm, for the launch of Let Him Go. I’ll leave you with our recommendation from Jason.
“It’s early 1950s North Dakota. George and Margaret Blackledge have lost their son in a tragic horse accident; his widow Lorna has married Donnie and moved to Montana. Margaret does not trust the sketchy Weboy clan with her grandchild, and convinces George to go after them to bring the boy home, with Lorna or without. The Blackledges are not ready for what awaits them in Gladstone, and their world will never be the same again. Larry Watson is a master at setting the atmosphere and the characters up in this tragedy waiting to happen. My heart went out for their desperate situation and their dead-end choices. Brilliant! ”