As Good As Gone

Fans of Larry Watson (Montana 1948, Let Him Go) will recognize his mastery of foreshadowing in his 10th novel, As Good As Gone: here's an ordinary family in a nondescript small town, but something's simmering. And when it erupts, readers are in for a heart-pounding read.

It's a typical July for the Sideys in 1963 Gladstone, Mont. Bill works as a realtor like his estranged dad, Cal, before him; his wife, Marjorie, cares for the home; 17-year-old Ann works at Penney's; and Will, 11, is content to bike and fish. When Bill's mother died suddenly, Cal spiraled into grief and drinking before abruptly leaving his two young children with his mother. Mostly absent since, he lives the cowboy life in an isolated trailer, reading classics in Latin by a kerosene lantern.

Marjorie decides to travel 400 miles to Missoula for a needed surgery that brings Cal Sidey back to town. Harboring a hope to reunite the family, Bill asks Cal to stay with Ann and Will while he and Marjorie are away. Though Bill's family is skeptical of the mysterious Cal, he agrees to return to a town whose memories still haunt him.

The Gladstone of the '60s is strange to Cal, a man recalled by a neighbor as someone "with the ability to inspire--simultaneously?--courtesy and terror in others and himself." Mild-mannered as he seems, the suspicion lurks: Is he capable of violence? What really drove him from Gladstone? When Ann's boyfriend, a "hood, a hell-raiser," turns ugly, and bullies threaten Will, Cal's protectiveness sparks his temper. Watson keeps readers speculating until the end of this tense, fast-paced story of family drama as modern times clash with Old West mores. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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