Let Him Go by Larry Watson © 2013 Milkweed
A modern Western about an elderly man and wife hell-bent on prying their grandson from the evil family into whom their late son’s wife has married. The rescue is Margaret Blackledge’s brain child. Her husband, ex-sheriff Grandpa George, is dragged along for the ride. The Western motif derives from the rural North Dakota and Montana setting, George’s strong-silent-type persona, and the black-hatted Weboy family the daughter-in-law married into.
It’s a nice twist on the typical Western quest. Here, it’s an AARP couple in an antique car roving the High Plains instead of a horseback Clint Eastwood with sidekick. The best part for me was how Watson blurred the lines on who was right and who was wrong. The Weboys were clearly cast as the bad guys and the Blackledges as the good guys, but only through the prism of Margaret Blackledge’s POV. I wondered throughout if Margaret was a reliable narrator and whether her hell-bentness on getting her grandson back was justified.
The consequences of Margaret’s hell-bentness fall upon Grandpa George in an initial Blackledge-Weboy showdown. Margaret then questions her motives and decides rescuing her grandson isn’t worth the cost. But Grandpa George, stinging from what the Weboys done to him, pulls his own about face and resumes the quest to Margaret’s dismay. George takes the fight back to the Weboys with chilling results.
The main characters’ changes of heart nudged Let Him Go from plain action story to thoughtful drama. In the end, I questioned whether the “hero” was a hero, and his “success” a success, and I like that kind of ambiguity. The only thing that didn’t work for me was Watson’s disdain for dialogue quotation marks. It didn’t improve the reading and was occasionally confusing. But if my only criticism is a style point, that tells you something.
Let Him Go will never be let go to my recycling bin. Mr. Watson, say howdy to my bookshelf of fiction keepers.