A Western for the Rest of Us

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Whiskey When We’re Dry
by John Larison
Viking. 400 pages, $28.

 

SET in the years following the Civil War in an unnamed state, Whiskey When We’re Dry is a Western that begins with Jessilyn Harney recalling that her mother died when giving birth to her, leaving her father to raise her and her brother Noah, who was five years old at the time. The father is portrayed as a good man, but, like so many men of this genre, a man of few words, stoic, and hard-bitten. His son, on the other hand, seems gallant at birth, taking care of Jessilyn when their father drinks too much. Indeed Noah is a conscientious brother, making sure that his sister is warm, dressed, fed, and protected—until she’s thirteen, at which time Noah has a fistfight with their father (it happens a lot in Westerns) and rides away.

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