Spartan prose for a Spartan tale of badlands justice set in North Dakota and eastern Montana in the fall of 1951.
Watson’s writing (American Boy, 2011, etc.) is the principal pleasure here. The story is simple, ageless. Margaret Blackledge wants her grandson, Jimmy, back in Dalton, N.D. Daughter-in-law Lorna, her husband dead, has hooked up with the suave Donnie Weboy. Weboys are clannish, violent. Margaret appears prepared to undertake this adventure alone. Her husband, George, former sheriff, strong and silent, not quite the man he used to be, agrees to come. They set off in their old car, period details used sparingly, to wrest from a mother her child, to preserve a family broken by circumstance and hardship, to tempt fate. Grief has marked this fool’s errand from the outset—indelibly. To call the voice that narrates this novel omniscient is accurate only in so far as it describes the fictional convention. We hear an uninflected human voice that knows the outcome of this dark tale and tales like it. No one we meet, and no action taken, is beyond the expected conventions of a bleak American West: “[I]f I never hear again about what’s hard for a man, it’ll be too goddamn soon.”
The sort of book that puts the shine back on genre as an adjective to describe fiction.