Let Him Go

Larry Watson's sparse language pummels the reader like icy winds racing down a North Dakota highway, conveying the looming consequences of hastily made choices, of passions gone amuck. Let Him Go, Watson's ninth work of fiction, is written in the pithy style of his classic Montana 1948 and American Boy, and set in familiar turf--the high plains of the American West.

George Blackledge walks home for lunch on a chilly September day because his wife asked to use the Hudson that morning. When he finds not the bowl of soup he expected but the car packed with camping gear, he knows Margaret's plan. "With or without you. It's your choice," she says.

The Blackledges had sold the ranch Margaret's forebears founded after their son, James, was thrown from a horse and killed. James's widow, Lorna, and toddler son stayed with the Blackledges, but Lorna soon fell for a Montana cowboy of sketchy repute, and moved on with her new husband and little Jimmy, leaving his grandparents bereft. Now Margaret is determined to persuade Lorna to move back to North Dakota or surrender Jimmy. George doesn't endorse the plan, but can't see Margaret go alone. "He sighs, the deep breath and exhalation of a man about to follow someone onto a narrow ledge."

Like George and Margaret, readers hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The frontier laws of 1951 clash with upright Blackledge morality in an unforgettable conclusion. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

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