From Montana 1948 (1993) through Let Him Go (2013), Watson has written rich, sometimes heartbreaking novels, often set in the middle of the twentieth century and featuring resolute men and women whose very strength of character—the product, to some extent, of contending with the forbidding if starkly beautiful landscapes of the American mountain states—has left them ill-equipped to deal with emotional turmoil. So it is for Calvin Sidey, once a successful real-estate developer in small-town Montana, but for years, following the accidental death of his wife, a virtual recluse, living far off the grid and out of touch with his son, Bill, and two grandchildren. Then a health crisis prompts Bill to ask his father to stay with the children, teenage Ann and 11-year-old Will, while Bill takes his wife to Missoula for surgery. Calvin reluctantly agrees and finds himself thrown into the maelstrom of the 1960s and the troubled lives of the two kids (Will is being bullied, and Ann is being stalked by an ex-boyfriend who won’t accept no for an answer). In Hollywood, Calvin’s attempts to solve his grandchildren’s problems like a cowboy confronting a gang of rustlers would be the stuff of inspirational melodrama, but in Watson’s far more subtle hands, the novel becomes something else entirely. Calvin is trapped on a cultural and emotional fault line, the ground shifting beneath him as he realizes that the only tools he knows how to use won’t unlock the secrets to life in a new world. Yes, Watson has told versions of this story before but perhaps never with as powerful a sense of loss. Fine writing in the grand western tradition of William Kittredge and Mark Spragg. —Bill Ott
—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
Watson’s stunning novel of the Sidey family is set in the turbulent Sixties in the prairie town of Gladstone, MT. Crusty old Calvin lives off the grid outside of town, staying away from anyone who might remember his mix-up with the law. Calvin’s son Bill runs the family real-estate business. Despite their precarious relationship, Bill screws up the courage to ask Calvin to stay at the house with daughter, Ann, and son, Will, while Bill and his wife, Marjorie, head to Missoula for Marjorie’s surgery. Calvin arrives with a small suitcase, a pint of Canadian Club whiskey, a box of ammunition, and a Colt .45. He can’t help but apply his code-of-the-West justice when one of Bill’s renters reacts to an eviction notice by storming the house with threats, or when Ann is being stalked by an aggressive boyfriend with whom she wants nothing. Even a romantic liaison with a widowed neighbor doesn’t soften Calvin. He’s a relic who doesn’t fit in. He walks out, returning to his solitary life, little realizing the significant effect he had on those around him. VERDICT Having received numerous awards for his fiction, Watson (Montana 1948) is sure to win more praise for his powerful characterizations in the manner of Kent Haruf and Ivan Doig. Readers won’t get a novel any better than this.
—Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
This excellent family drama from Watson (Let Him Go) centers on Calvin Sidey and his second chance to be a part of his family. Decades ago, Calvin abandoned his son and daughter when his beloved wife, Pauline, died while visiting her native France. Since then, he’s lived in the scrublands of Montana, doing the occasional odd job and reading his father’s copy of Catullus. But in the heat of 1963’s summer, his son, David, has come calling, asking Calvin to watch over David’s children while David takes his wife, Marjorie, to Missoula for an operation. Calvin’s granddaughter, Ann, is 17, but she has a steady job and therefore can’t keep an eye on Calvin’s grandson, 11-year-old Will. Calvin receives unlooked-for support and physical comfort from Beverly Lodge, a neighbor, but even she can see that he “is always ready to run, and it doesn’t take much to set him in motion.” The challenges of his family may redeem Calvin or break him for good. This is a very well done novel in which every character faces an individual conflict, resulting in a rich, suspenseful read.
"Deserves a Clint Eastwood performance. Watson's powerful characterizations frame large and connected themes: family loyalty, the conflicting capacities of love, and the tenuous connections between humans."
"Larry Watson's As Good as Gone is a long, hard look at western manhood, exploring the quandary of living by a code that the world no longer values or even needs. Despite the richly drawn characters, this is a deeply lonesome book, a fearless look at a man aging out of relevance only to see how much his family needs him."
—Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek
"In As Good as Gone, Watson gives us Calvin Sidey, a man to be reckoned with. Calvin is driven by both pride and deep-rooted decency. He lives by a firm code that sometimes harms those he loves. His story asks the great American question--'Are we meant to do it on our own or with the help of others?'--with daring and hard-earned grace."
—Alyson Hagy, author of Boleto
“Aging cowboy Calvin Sidey has come to town. He has come to care for his grandchildren while their parents are at the hospital. Baby-sitting, however, turns to vigilantism when Calvin perceives threats to the family safety. Unfortunately, his old style cowboy law is not well suited to 1960's - even in Montana. Watson's stunning prose and deft hand create a western for a new breed of readers. I found myself gasping several times while I read this novel. Watson is back and better than ever.”
–Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN
“After the death of his wife Cal Sidey abandoned his children for the life of a solitary ranch hand in Montana. Years later in 1963 his son Bill asks his father to return home to look after the grandchildren while Bill takes his wife across the state for a medical operation. Cal returns even though "redemption isn't in his vocabulary." The powerful story of Cal's visit is a tragedy of narrowly missed moments as Cal attempts re-entry into a world that no longer has any place for his old-fashioned and violent ways. Every character is strongly drawn. The prose is clear and lovely. Cal Sidey captured my heart while breaking it. Larry Watson has given us a grand Western tragedy, spare and harrowing.”
–Kathi Kirby, Powell's Books, Portland, OR
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED AND BOXED REVIEW
"Watson returns to North Dakota, setting of his Sundown, Yellow Moon (2007), and like that brooding tale of people trapped by the past, this latest novel concerns an aging couple, George and Margaret Blackledge, trying but failing to deal with loss, in their case, the death of their only son, who was thrown from a horse. In September 1951, years after the accident, Margaret decides it’s time to act and vows to travel to Bentrock, Montana—with or without George—and retrieve her only grandson from her former daughter-in-law, Lorna, who has remarried and cut off all contact with the Blackledges. Reluctantly, George joins his determined wife (who, until this journey, has never stayed in a hotel for two nights in a row) on what will quickly become a transformative road trip. Their mission proves more complicated than they’d imagined, as Lorna has become a virtual hostage in the home of her new in-laws. The violent finale has the doomed feel of country noir, but what emerges most forcefully is the profound, if largely unspoken, love shared by a taciturn man and woman who dig deeply into long-dormant reservoirs of grit (“George Blackledge, despite his white-whiskered pallor . . . still has eyes that burn with a wild, blue desperation”) for one last attempt to take on an unbending world. Superb storytelling from a writer who continues to find a special kind of melancholy poetry in the unforgiving landscape of the mountain states."
—Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"In LET HIM GO, Larry Watson evokes the deepest kind of suspense: that based upon the fact that humans are unpredictable and perhaps ultimately unknowable—even to their most intimate associates. This fierce, tense book is beautifully written, with spare and economical prose out of which blooms a vivid and uncompromising portrait of the modern West. A brilliant achievement."
—Alice LaPlante, bestselling author of TURN OF MIND
"LET HIM GO is as commanding as its title: you will be immediately gripped by the narrow-eyed, big-hearted pursuit of a child in danger. This is a literary thriller of the highest order—on par with Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone—an unrelenting quest through an unforgiving landscape and deadly family web."
—Benjamin Percy, author of RED MOON
A rare and scintillating and utterly mesmerizing novel."
—Chris Faatz, Powell's Books, Portland, OR
“Larry Watson is, quite simply, an American classic. He uses language as stark and spare as the landscape he describes and direct and powerful as the people in two families caught up in a conflict that is bound for tragedy. If there is one voice for the northern plains, it is his.”
—Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI
"I loved LET HIM GO, so real, and heartbreaking, and tragic. It never let me go as I took a trip with George and Margaret Blackledge. Larry Watson is a master at setting up the gut-wrenching atmosphere and these hard-scrabble characters. My heart went out to them in their desperate situation and their dead end choices. Brilliant!”
—Jason Kennedy, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
“LET HIM GO is brilliant, devastating. I will be reading more Larry Watson.“
—J Ganz, Books-A-Million, Dickson City, PA
—Benjamin Percy, author of THE WILDING and REFRESH, REFRESH
“Watson has penned some of the best contemporary fiction about small-town America, and his new novel does not disappoint. . . . With his graceful writing style, well-drawn characters, and subtly moving plot, Watson masterfully portrays the dark side of small-town America. Highly readable and enthusiastically recommended.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Eighteen years ago, Milkweed published Watson’s breakthrough novel, Montana 1948; now the author returns to Milkweed with another powerful coming-of-age story about a teenage boy [Matthew Garth] being shocked into maturity by a moment of sudden and unexpected violence. . . . Like Holden Caulfield trying to catch innocent children before they fall off the cliff adjoining that field of rye, Matthew struggles to save the Dunbars and, in so doing, save himself. He fails, of course, but that’s the point of much of Watson’s always melancholic, always morally ambiguous fiction: coming-of-age is about failure as much as it is about growth.”
—Booklist (starred review)
"Larry Watson’s latest book, AMERICAN BOY, may be his best yet. With the patient skill of a seasoned writer, Watson tells an engaging coming-of-age story of a young man in Willow Falls, Minnesota during the 1960s. Youthful passions, heartbreaks, loyalties and moral uncertainties are all rendered in vivid color.”
—David Rhodes, author of DRIFTLESS
“A true, realistic, and intelligent novel of a teen-aged Minnesota boy in the early 1960s, in which a woman with a gunshot wound captures young Matthew Garth's imagination and continues to hold it in a fierce grip. Young Matthew first encounters Louisa Lindahl in the office of the town doctor, at whose home he spends much of his time. Along the way, Matthew endeavors to work his way into Louisa's affections, while pursuing typical teenage pursuits with Johnny Dunbar, the doctor's son. While Matthew ultimately finds out the answers to most of the questions he has about this mysterious young woman, many of these answers aren't the ones he wants. Watson does a wonderful job of peering under the masks of these small town folks and helping us see what their real selves are.”
—Carl Hoffman, Boswell Book Company
“Pure. Simple. Classic. Little more needs to be said about Larry Watson’s utterly breath-taking coming-of-age novel featuring two high school chums, Johnny Dunbar and Matthew Garth. This novel takes a fresh look at that time of life, the teen years, when everything happens so suddenly and with such ferociousness: the fist crashing out of nowhere into your unsuspecting chin; the physical sick feeling as your heart breaks upon learning that ‘your’ girl isn’t; that head-to-toe rush of hot blood as you gaze knowingly at your first love; the utterly helpless feeling as your vehicle spins round and round over the black ice. Yes, youth, a time of intensity, immediacy, raw emotions, and suddenness. We remember it well. Now Larry Watson captures it all in this wonderful novel, American Boy. This book will become—is—a classic. I recommend it without reserve to every reader who appreciates life and fine literature.”
—Nancy Simpson, Book Vault
"The possibilities for a novel about violence and its origins, about love and its wavering effects, and about the growth of character over time are enormous, as is the chance to illuminate life in one of the lesser-known quarters of the heartland. Declaring his allegiance to such predecessors as William Maxwell (most strikingly in the brilliant short novel "So Long, See You Tomorrow"), and with echoes of Richard Ford's Montana stories and an affinity with the plot of Deirdre McNamer's recent Montana novel, "Red Rover," Larry Watson succeeds impressively, especially in deepening our understanding of first love, something most of us long ago dropped from our grasp."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"If there exists a literary equivalent to the artist's play of light on canvas, then Larry Watson has mastered it . . . The ingenuity of the book lies in Watson's ability to render the complexities of his characters without loading his sentences with too much sentiment. Like Ned Weaver, whose paintings "make marvelous . . . the ordinariness of life," Watson's sparse words and controlled prose turn a remote town and four lonely characters into a remarkable tale."
--The Baltimore Sun
"ORCHARD is a small masterpiece. And, as wondrous works of art can do, it allures, it pulls you immediately into its depths and settles inside your bones for a long and haunting stay."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"Watson's sinewy third-person narrative dips into each character's perspetive. In scene after scene, he builds a powerful atmosphere of subdued, yet highly charged eroticism. He also makes superb use of dialogue, both to illuminate his characters and to dramatize the intensity of their conflicts."
--Los Angeles Times
"Technically flawness and quietly unnerving"
--Entertainment Weekly (A-)
"ORCHARD blossoms with loss, grief--and haunting beauty"
--The Washington Post
"The characters' dialogue is so natural and Watson's attention to detail is so acute that it's easy to forget that it is fiction....LAURA is the kind of novel that, once started, is hard to put down."
--The Denver Post
--The New York Times Book Review
"This is a haunting novel, full of wonderful writing, and laced with the kinds of subtle insights into small-town life that make it a joy to read and reread."
--The Globe and Mail
"Throughout, Watson writes with ruthless honesty about his characters' stunted dreams, unpredictable emotions and outbursts of senseless violence, showing once again that he understands not only the West but the untamed hearts that have roamed it."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This story is as fresh and clear as the trout streams fished by its narrator....As universal in its themes as it is original in its peculiarities, MONTANA 1948 is a significant and elegant addition to the fiction of the American West, and to contempory American fiction in general."
--The Washington Post Book World
"In crisp, restrained prose, Watson indelibly portrays the moral dilemma of a family torn between justice and loyalty; by implication, he also illuminates some dark corners of our national history.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"IN A DARK TIME is an auspicious debut for a novelist....I think you'll enjoy the book."
--The Milwaukee Journal