Sometimes setting can make a novel something special. That is certainly true for Let Him Go by Larry Watson. Watson was born in North Dakota and has used the west before in his works including the magnificent Montana 1948, one of my sure-bet book discussion titles.
In this go-around, we are in the 1950s in Gladstone, Montana. Retired sheriff George Blackledge’s wife Margaret is determined to retain ownership of her grandson Jimmy when her son tragically dies and his wife Lorna takes off with a bad boy named Donnie Weboy. As the Blackledges pull up stakes and head out into Weboy country, they find themselves butting heads with a matriarchal family led by Blanche Weboy. To say that things do not go smoothly would be an understatement.
While the characters are disturbing to read about so is the environment. Harsh, remote and desperate, the small town Montana atmosphere is as disturbing as James Dickey’s Deliverance wilderness or anything Daniel Woodrell has dream up. So many themes abound in this book including mothers and sons, husbands and wives, family feuds and regret. The big one is loss—there is so much forsaken in the course of this novel by characters who would be much better off if they did not lose what they so desperate try to cling to.
For readers who like determined, stand-up characters in tough situations, this book is for them. For book discussion groups, this bleak novel of character and setting should promote much discussion.