Let Him Go, Impressions
By Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky and Ruth E. Wagner
Your grandkid is living with the edge-of-the-law Weboy Family out in the stretching flats and hills of eastern Montana.
You, and you follow the rules and law, live in equally flat and hilly western North Dakota, the other side of the rocky Badlands.
You want your grandkid back, with or without his mother, who was married to your dead son. She then remarried into the Weboys, left North Dakota and went to live in the Weboys’ rambling house with her boorish husband.
Some. The Blackledges, George and Margaret – they’re the grandparents – at Margaret’s urging, drive away from North Dakota, cross the Badlands and drop into eastern Montana; Margaret desperately wants her grandson, Jimmy, back, or at least be able to frequently see him.
George, a former rancher, then a sheriff, and now laborer, is reluctant to leave; he feels his age, has put his dead son out of his mind, has little to say; Margaret, and it was her father’s ranch they lived on, also feels age, yet, has verve, which George never had.
The time, early 1950s, World War One – George served – is in the books, same for World War Two, and Korea is in progress.
Margaret is the Blackledges’ force, and we felt Larry Watson’s Let Him Go is as much about the Blackledges’ aging, pains, memories, as it is in the violent twists around Jimmy and his life with the Weboys.
Let Him Go, which is one of many novels Watson has written with a High Plains setting. Montana 1948, more than 20 years old, is his first – and is as compelling as Let Him Go.
Let Him Go contains many themes, sub themes and even minor slices of life. Some are:
– Whites and their reactions to and with what remains of Plains Indians.
– Sparsely populated counties, with sections of law-abiding people, and areas where the sheriffs are reluctant to go, like the Weboys’ home, where Jimmy lives with his new grandmother, her three sons, including Donnie, married to Lorna’s, Jimmy’s mother, who is nearly a prisoner of the Weboys, including the sons’ uncle Bill. He lives in town, but is often at the Weboys, and is in a relationship with the grandmother.
– Why does the Weboy grandmother insist on keeping Jimmy with her? She does not like him. And whom does she like? A matter of possession, control?
– The rare main streets that thrive, and the majority that don’t.
– Wind, always wind, cool to cold most of the year, with the ground hard and dusty.
– Distance and space, electric lines..
And while readers will move rapidly to the end, curious if the Blackledges will see Jimmy, or get him back to North Dakota – and that is the novel’s hook – almost every page’s contents are worth reflection.
– When do you decide if a “humane kidnapping” is justified?
– How much revenge, if any, is enough after the Weboys chop off three of your fingers with a meat cleaver?
– Can forcing a dropped ice cream cone’s serving into a child’s face abuse, or merely discipline?
We will not tell you what happens to the Blackledges, including Jimmy ,the Weboys, a Montana nurse, or a Montana Indian.
All these people, many following the rules, others breaking them, and the conflict could have been played out in central Maine, Low Country South Carolina, the swamps of north Florida and south Georgia and rural and urban pockets of Deep South Texas, all races included, populated the United States in the early 1950s, and still do.
Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky and Ruth E. Wagner, early February 2014