The opening moments of Larry Watson’s new novel, “Let Him Go” (Milkweed Editions, 269 pages, $24), establish the author’s gift for setting both tone and pace:
“The siren on top of the Dalton, North Dakota, fire station howls, as it does five days a week at this hour. Its wail frightens into flight the starlings that roost on the station roof every day yet never learn how fixed and foreseeable are human lives. The siren tells the town’s working citizens and students what they already know. It’s twelve o’clock, time for you to fly too.”
This lyricism is inviting, drawing readers into the story Watson, who will present during the Iowa City Book Festival in October, has to tell. It’s also a setup, in that “Let Him Go” contains flashes of ugliness and savagery that gain power from their contrast to the book’s overall beauty.
“Let Him Go” is the story of Margaret and George Blackledge, a couple that embarks on a quest to reclaim their grandson — the son of their dead son — from his mother and stepfather. Margaret is eager and determined; George is dubious but steadfast. With only the sketchiest of plans, the Blackledge’s travel to Montana, and couple soon discovers that sheer desire will not be enough to accomplish their goal.
In addition to the beauty of the writing, “Let Him Go” offers a stirring portrait of a long marriage. Margaret and George’s present is infused with shared memories, misunderstandings, old grudges, and priorities both shared and divergent. Their personalities do not harmoniously blend. Yet, they are fiercely devoted to one another, even when they are at odds.
“Let Him Go” is, in that sense, a love story and a testament to the abiding bonds that can join two people together.