Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: "American Boy" by Larry Watson

Some authors seem as if their style and storytelling would fit in perfectly in a different era. Larry Watson, who has written some truly fantastic books, including Montana 1948, Justice and In a Dark Time, is one of those writers. Many of his books would be appropriate companions to those by Fitzgerald or Faulkner, both in setting (many of his stories take place in earlier times) and because his narrative, while spare, packs the power of earlier writers.

Matthew Garth is a working-class teenager growing up in Minnesota in the early 1960s. Raised by his waitress mother, he would much rather spend time in the company of his best friend, Johnny Dunbar, and his wealthy family, led by the town doctor and his devoted wife. On Thanksgiving night Dr. Dunbar is asked to treat Louisa Lindahl, a woman in her 20s who has been shot by her good-for-nothing boyfriend. That night Matthew sees both a gunshot wound and a topless woman for the first time, and both sights haunt him. His longing for the mysterious Louisa changes his behavior and his relationship with the Dunbars, and leads him to actions that set a chain of events in motion that will affect all of them indelibly.

While American Boy certainly is a book that recalls an earlier time, the feelings it chronicles—jealousy, lust, envy, betrayal, and a desire to better one's life—are modern ones. This was a very quick read; while nothing too surprising transpired in the plot, I still felt somewhat invested in the characters and what happened to them, even if none of them were particularly likeable. I really enjoyed Watson's storytelling ability, as I always do, and think he should be much more famous than he is. This may not be his best book, but it's definitely a worthwhile read.

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