‘As Good As Gone’ by Larry Watson

‘As Good As Gone’ is the story of Calvin Sidey, a tough old man who, after the sudden death of his wife, left town after allegedly beating a man to death. He abandoned his children and shrouded himself in grief, solitude and the exhausting but mindless work of a cowboy. After decades alone, taking no responsibility for anyone but himself and no disrespect from anyone, Calvin is asked by his son to return to the town he left behind and look after the two grandchildren that he’s never met, while their parents travel to the city so their mother can have surgery.

The strength of this book lies in its ability to make the people and place feel vividly real. It’s set in a small town in Montana in the 1960s. It’s a town Calvin used to be a prominent businessman in but where he’s now remembered only for the story of his murderous violence and his grief for his dead wife. The town has changed but Calvin has not. He still lives by a code of sorting out problems personally and directly, with a tire iron or a knife or a gun if necessary and never backing down if his family is threatened. We watch as this code brings him into an escalating conflict with the people around him.

What I liked most about the book was how well-drawn the people were, not just Calvin Side but his son, his teenage granddaughter, his middle-school-aged grandson, his son and his widowed neighbour. We mostly see the world and its problems through the eyes of Calvin’s family members and his neighbour. The tension in the book and most of the pain comes from understanding the threats to the happiness of these people and how they attempt to address them. We spend very little time in Calvin’s head. He’s a man we judge by his actions more than his words but when his words come, they are articulate and intelligent. I found myself rooting for Calvin even as I found myself saying, ‘If he does that, it won’t end well.

This isn’t a dark book. The people have problems but they also know happiness and hope and even moments of love. I believed in these people and cared about them.

The ending of the book feels truthful. It’s also a little disappointing. Life can be like that.

There is a strong plot to the book. Different storylines are choreographed to intersect in ways that increase the tension in the book but it’s not a book that’s about the plot. My overall impression is that it’s a pearl necklace book where the plot holds together the pearls, intense scenes about people under pressure trying to do the right thing.

Larry Watson has written ten novels so far. I’ll definitely be looking to read more of his work.

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