As Good As Gone

Written by Larry Watson
Review by G. J. Berger

Seventy-year-old WWII veteran Calvin Sidey lives alone in a trailer on the scrubby plains of eastern Montana. His ranch hand jobs are drying up. He is a man of few words and many hard edges but reads old classics in their original Latin. On a hot July day in the 1960s, Calvin’s son, Bill, stops by unannounced. Son asks father to come to town and mind Bill’s children while Bill helps their mother through surgery in far-away Missoula.

Calvin hardly knows his grandchildren—beautiful 17-year-old Ann and eleven-year-old Will. Calvin had run out on his own young family soon after Calvin’s wife (and Bill’s mother) died in a traffic accident. Yet Calvin agrees to watch over the house and youngsters while their parents are gone. Calvin’s hard edges rub up against Ann’s possessive suitor, against neighbor widow Beverly’s yearnings for more in this life, against Bill’s tenants of a rental house in the rough part of town, against most things modern and progressive.

Watson examines large and small events of the Sidey family members, of Beverly and her grown son, of unruly neighborhood kids, and other secondary characters. Watson lays out their humanity, what made them who they have become and now makes them do what they can’t help doing. The main story is told in the present tense interrupted by many flashbacks, but the parts are easy to follow. Lovers of Watson’s literary prose and layered stories will welcome this addition.