Monday, August 19, 2013

Let Him Go

by Larry Watson
 Milkweed     2013
269 pages            Fiction

Let Him Go by Larry Watson is a revelation. Heartbreaking story, painstakingly plotted, every word meticulously chosen. I couldn't stop until I had finished it and then I dreamed about it all night. Probably the best recommendation of all.

The year is 1951. George and Margaret Blackledge from Dalton North Dakota have lost their son, James, and now their daughter-in-law Lorna has remarried Donnie Weboy. She has moved to Donnie's family in Montana and taken the Blackledge's grandson Jimmy, a child of about four, with her. Margaret has persuaded herself that Jimmy is not being well cared-for and that he should be in Dalton with his grandparents and the memory of his father. She convinces her husband that they need to pack up and take a road trip to see Jimmy and bring him home. They drive to Montana to the community where the Weboys live and attempt to extricate Jimmy from the Weboy clan. What follows is compelling tragedy. 

The reader feels nothing but sympathy for Margaret and George. Margaret, in particular, can't let go of the loss of her son and now the loss of her grandson. George has kept it all inside, but when Margaret decides to go to Montana with or without him, he goes. A retired sheriff, he seems to know that they are embarking on a journey from which no good can come, but her mission becomes his. The reader comes to know these characters intimately; they are appealing people locked in an untenable situation. 

Interestingly enough, even the villains of the piece, the Weboys, have their own appeal, particularly the matriarch, Blanche. We have seen characters like her before, a "Ma Barker," protecting her no-good children at all costs. Her pithy comments bring a touch of humor to an otherwise tense situation. Blanche and Margaret are not all that different--neither one can "let him go."  It is indeed gripping to see the extent to which both will go to accomplish their goals.

The theme of "letting go" pervades the book. Margaret can't let go of Jimmy; George can't let go of Margaret; the Weboys can't let go of one of their own. Even the Montana community can't let go of any of the ne'er-do-wells in their midst.  

The other theme that I found appealing is that of hospitality. The Blackledges find hospitality everywhere they go--whether they are invited to sleep in an empty jail or the shack of a young Native American man. Even Blanche invites them to dinner at her ranch. Most touching, however, is the nurse and her husband who offer the couple a bed and emotional hospitality when they need it most. Although hospitality is portrayed as a Western virtue, I believe that it is a concept to which all readers can relate. Almost everyone has been treated to extravagant hospitality at one time or another. And because George and Margaret are such appealing characters, they seem to accumulate acts of hospitality. 

Larry Watson is a new author to me.  I really like his style of writing, but I think that I will wait a little bit before I get emotionally entangled in another of his books. One reviewer said: "Watson’s novels are thought provoking, and that remains true among all nine of them, whether the book is a focus on romance, coming of age, or mystery.  They are not just a quick story to read, but a tale that one can’t help but dwell on, at least for a short time, after the final page.   It is like, there is more to it than what you just read, but the remainder is actually within YOU.  There is always the quandary, the dilemma, and whatever solution the author arrives at in the book, you have to decide, is that what I would do?"

I was reminded of Train Dreams by Dennis Johnson that I read last year. There is a similarity of style and subject matter. I was also intrigued to know that Watson's books have been chosen by several communities for their community reads. I think I will recommend Let Him Go to our community and certainly to my book club. 

On further reflection, as a grandmother of eight, I certainly could empathize with Margaret; I want all my grands close to me. Yet I hope I would be wise enough to understand that I am only the grandmother. When my husband died when my children were young, the grandparents on both sides of the family offered me tremendous support, but on my terms. They were willing to do nearly anything for me or my children, but it was always up to us. Having read about Margaret, George, and Blanche, I understand more fully the need to "let him go."

A review on The Literary Outpost:
Larry Watson's website:

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