Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review: "Let Him Go" by Larry Watson

Winter is approaching in rural Dalton, North Dakota in the early 1950s. One day retired sheriff George Blackledge returns home from work to find his wife, the headstrong, stubborn Margaret, packing up the contents of their house and loading their car. She is determined to track down Lorna, their former daughter-in-law, who remarried following George and Margaret's son's death in a freak accident, and moved away with her ne'er-do-well husband, Donnie Weboy, and Margaret and George's young grandson, Jimmy.

Margaret is convinced that Lorna and Donnie aren't treating Jimmy well, and that he'd be better off if she could convince Lorna to give custody of the boy to George and Margaret. She tells George she's going looking for them with or without him. While George isn't sure that Margaret's idea is a sound one, especially given their advancing age, and he worries that she'll go off half-cocked, his duty is to follow his wife, so they set off into the badlands and head to Montana to find Donnie and Lorna, who have apparently returned to Donnie's boyhood home.

When Margaret and George arrive, they find that the Weboys are a family not to be trifled with. While Donnie isn't particularly intelligent or ambitious, his mother, Blanche, has held her family together every way she knows how, and she and her three sons, as well as her brother-in-law, Bill, turn to bullying, intimidation, and downright violence to get whatever they want. And what they want is for Margaret and George to return home to North Dakota, and consider their mission to retrieve their grandson finished. But of course, Margaret has different ideas, which sets the Blackledges and Weboys on a collision course that grows increasingly bleaker and more dangerous.

Larry Watson is a fantastic writer, and I've been a fan of his work since reading his first novel-in-stories, Montana 1948, in the early 1990s. His imagery and language are poetic, and his storytelling is compelling yet surprisingly simple. In Let Him Go he transports you to the early 1950s, to the strong connection between a couple married for years who have struggled with different issues, yet their bond is unshakeable. I wondered how Watson would resolve the clash between the two families, and what would ultimately happen.

Watson is one of those writers who can evoke feelings of nostalgia both with setting and imagery as well as his storytelling. But although the novel seems faithful to place and time, the story still feels tremendously current and was incredibly compelling. This really was a great book, a fast read, and another example of Larry Watson's strength as a storyteller.

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