Whitmer (Pike, 2010, etc.) offers dark literary fiction delving into incalculable loss mirrored by the vagaries of father-son relationships.
Physician error killed Patterson Well’s son, a boy he loved beyond words. Refusing to let his memory die, Patterson writes his son letters, uncensored and pain-filled. He grief-counsels himself with alcohol, pain pills and the dangerous work of clearing disaster debris, amid crews so rough and places so perilous he’s never without his father’s Model 1911 Colt pistol. Symbolic that, for Patterson’s father self-medicated his own post-Vietnam PTSD in alcoholic parallel. Now Patterson’s driving home to Colorado, stopping near St. Louis to meet a co-worker, only to discover him in meth-meltdown. There’s also a woman tied up in the bathtub. He fights his friend, frees the woman, and forgetting no good deed goes unpunished, heads home to an off-the-grid cabin in Colorado’s San Luis Valley among wild horses, aspen and Brother Joe, a conspiracy-spouting radio personality. Nearby lives Henry, a broken-down ex–rodeo rider, whose son, Junior, is a sociopathic drug courier. To keep Henry safe, Patterson confronts Junior only to find himself involved in more than one of Junior’s violent capers—"Chase sinks his teeth into Patterson’s forearm. He wraps his arm around Patterson and gnaws." Peripheral characters are superb, especially Laney, Patterson’s former wife, whose love cannot salve Patterson’s rage, and intellectual Vincente and colossal Eduard, Denver drug dealers. With realistic gunplay matching any ol’ Western shoot'em-up, Whitmer’s deft descriptions of biker bars, greasy spoons and mean streets are as spot-on as his clear, clean appreciation of the high country where the "peaks...look like earth torn out of the sky."
This exploration of the damage fathers can do to sons, and sons to fathers, is more Woodrell than Palahniuk, more hillbilly noir than existentialist nihilism.