American Boy

American Boy

4.2 5
by Larry Watson
     
 

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We were exposed to these phenomena in order that we might learn something, but of course the lessons we learn are not always what was intended.

So begins Matthew Garth’s story of the fall of 1962, when the shooting of a young woman on Thanksgiving Day sets off a chain of unsettling events in small-town Willow Falls, Minnesota. Matthew first sees

Overview

We were exposed to these phenomena in order that we might learn something, but of course the lessons we learn are not always what was intended.

So begins Matthew Garth’s story of the fall of 1962, when the shooting of a young woman on Thanksgiving Day sets off a chain of unsettling events in small-town Willow Falls, Minnesota. Matthew first sees Louisa Lindahl in Dr. Dunbar’s home office, and at the time her bullet wound makes nearly as strong an impression as her unclothed body. Fueled over the following weeks by his feverish desire for this mysterious woman and a deep longing for the comfort and affluence that appears to surround the Dunbars, Matthew finds himself drawn into a vortex of greed, manipulation, and ultimately betrayal.

Immersive, heart-breaking, and richly evocative of a time and place, this long-awaited new novel marks the return of a great American storyteller.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Watson’s new novel about a young man’s coming-of-age in rural Minnesota during the early ’60s never veers off course. Working-class narrator Matthew Garth has always been treated well by best friend Johnny Dunbar’s well-to-do family, particularly by Johnny’s father, Dr. Dunbar. In the town of Willow Falls, the doctor’s wealth and commanding presence position him as a leader to some, but to others—including Matt’s mother—he remains an ostentatious outsider. He treats Louisa Lindahl, a young woman shot by her boyfriend (who later strangles himself while in custody); having “no resources and no place to go,” Louisa recuperates with the Dunbars and stays on to live and work with the family. Matt develops an infatuation for Louisa, but her own plans, about which the reader is never unaware, lead to explosive changes in Matt’s standing with the Dunbar family. Though the novel’s dénouement packs a punch, much about Matt, from episodes relating to women to his trajectory with the Dunbars, is foreshadowed to the point of draining the story of drama. Though Watson’s (Montana 1948) laconic prose fits the setting, his decision to telegraph every narrative turn is disappointing. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Starting with In a Dark Time (1980) and with highlights like Montana 1948, Watson has penned some of the best contemporary fiction about small-town America, and his new novel does not disappoint. Teenage narrator Matthew Garth begins his story in 1962, in Willow Falls, MN, where he is enjoying a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner with the Dunbar family. He and Johnny Dunbar are inseparable, despite their families' disparity in status: Johnny's father is a physician, while Matthew is the only child of a single working mother. Their elegant meal is interrupted when the sheriff calls Dr. Dunbar to the scene of a shooting. The authorities soon bring young Louisa Lindahl, wounded by her boyfriend during an argument, to recuperate at Dr. Dunbar's clinic; before long, Louisa has moved into the Dunbar household. Matthew longs for this seductive young woman from the day he sees her wounded, unclothed body at the clinic. He sees himself as Louisa's rescuer, and a rift soon opens up between him and the Dunbars. VERDICT With his graceful writing style, well-drawn characters, and subtly moving plot, Watson masterfully portrays the dark side of small-town America. Highly readable and enthusiastically recommended.—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO
Kirkus Reviews
Watson's (Montana 1948, 1993, etc.) sixth novel resonates with language as clear and images as crisp as the spare, flat prairie of its Minnesota setting. Matthew Garth's father died when Matt was a young boy, leaving him to be raised, or watched over as he raised himself, by a withdrawn, hard-working waitress mother. But Matt has a second family, the Dunbars, parents of his best friend, Johnny. Rex Dunbar is Willow Fall's most prominent physician, and his passion for medicine fascinates Matt and Johnny, high-school seniors. Dunbar often allows them to follow along as he carries out his practice, always offering instructions about medicine's basics. It is Thanksgiving 1962. Kennedy is president but all that is Willow Falls is evocative of Eisenhower and Father Knows Best. The Dunbars, with Matt, are celebrating when word comes that young Louisa Lindahl has been shot by her boyfriend and has gone missing. The boys are sent to help search. Dr. Dunbar prepares his clinic. Louisa is discovered by other searchers, and when the boys return, Dr. Dunbar has completed surgery. The boys are curious about the nature of a gunshot wound, and as Dunbar lifts the sheet from the unconscious woman to explain his abdominal surgery, Matt catches a glimpse of her breasts. Matt is captivated, and with that, a vivid story of sexual tension, family loyalty and betrayal unfolds. Matt wants Louisa, mysterious and thoroughly erotic, everything high-school girls are not, and since her lover and assailant committed suicide, he believes he can have her. Louisa is also a manipulative opportunist. After she is given shelter by the Dunbars, she quietly sets out to seduce the doctor, determined to "…advance her station in life through imitation and force of will." The introspective, insightful and reflective narrative unfolds from Matt's adult perspective, easily inferred early but not confirmed until the conclusion. A literary tale chronicling the painful struggle required of a boy to birth himself as a man.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781571318466
Publisher:
Milkweed Editions
Publication date:
10/04/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
445,182
File size:
331 KB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Esquire Top 9 Books of the Year Midwest Booksellers Choice Award Finalist
Booklist Editor's Choice 2011 Best Book
Publishers Weekly 20 Top Indie Sleeper Hits WBEZ Chicago Top 10 Books of 2011

“...powerful and exquisitely crafted...Watson’s portraits of small town life and the people who live it—mostly during the 1940s and 1950s—are compassionate and true.”
—Steve Mills, Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row

“There are a handful of writers I push on everyone I meet, and Larry Watson is one of them. For the past twenty years has quietly penned some of the wisest, most powerful novels in my library, and I am thrilled to make room on the shelf for his latest, a gripping, poignant coming-of-age story that opens with a gunshot that will ultimately bury its bullet in your heart. American Boy is an American classic.”
—Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh

“Larry Watson’s latest book, American Boy, may be his best yet. With the patient skill of a seasoned writer, Watson tells an engaging coming-of-age story of a young man in Willow Falls, Minnesota during the 1960s. Youthful passions, heartbreaks, loyalties and moral uncertainties are all rendered in vivid color.”
—David Rhodes, author of Driftless

“[Watson will] harvest a bumper crop of readers this autumn.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[Watson] spins charm and melancholy around the same fingers, the result a soft but urgent rendering of a young man coming of age in rural America that is recognizable to even those of us who were never there.”
Denver Post

“Watson is sure-footed on familiar ground in American Boy. . . . [he’s] made something of a specialty of that space where teenagers struggle between hormonal urges and moral decisions as they grope toward adulthood. His evocation of that difficult passage feels as sure as his evocation of small-town life in the upper Midwest more than one generation ago. . . As convincing as it is lonely and bleak.”
Billings Gazette

"Elemental mystery...American Boy seems oddly 1930’s in its noir-like soul. Early 60’s optimism, Vietnam or pot doesn’t touch this town. But perhaps that’s the point—this place is that insular....This is a heroic coming of age story. I was riveted by its layered mystery."
—Susan Weinstein, NotAnotherBookReview.blogspot.com

“Watson has penned some of the best contemporary fiction about small-town America, and his new novel does not disappoint. . . . With his graceful writing style, well-drawn characters, and subtly moving plot, Watson masterfully portrays the dark side of small-town America. Highly readable and enthusiastically recommended.”
Library Journal

“Eighteen years ago, Milkweed published Watson’s breakthrough novel, Montana 1948; now the author returns to Milkweed with another powerful coming-of-age story about a teenage boy [Matthew Garth] being shocked into maturity by a moment of sudden and unexpected violence. . . . Like Holden Caulfield trying to catch innocent children before they fall off the cliff adjoining that field of rye, Matthew struggles to save the Dunbars and, in so doing, save himself. He fails, of course, but that’s the point of much of Watson’s always melancholic, always morally ambiguous fiction: coming-of-age is about failure as much as it is about growth.”
Booklist

“Watson’s new novel about a young man’s coming-of-age in rural Minnesota during the early ’60s never veers off course.”
Publishers Weekly

“Watson's sixth novel resonates with language as clear and images as crisp as the spare, flat prairie of its Minnesota setting. . . A vivid story of sexual tension, family loyalty and betrayal.”
Kirkus

“A true, realistic, and intelligent novel of a teen-aged Minnesota boy in the early 1960s, in which a woman with a gunshot wound captures young Matthew Garth's imagination and continues to hold it in a fierce grip. Young Matthew first encounters Louisa Lindahl in the office of the town doctor, at whose home he spends much of his time. Along the way, Matthew endeavors to work his way into Louisa's affections, while pursuing typical teenage pursuits with Johnny Dunbar, the doctor's son. While Matthew ultimately finds out the answers to most of the questions he has about this mysterious young woman, many of these answers aren't the ones he wants. Watson does a wonderful job of peering under the masks of these small town folks and helping us see what their real selves are.”
—Carl Hoffman, Boswell Book Company

“Nobody knows the heartland better than Larry Watson and no one is better at conveying its stark landscape and the stark truths that can arise from living in it. The story of young Matt Garth in rural Minnesota in 1962 is not just one of coming of age but also of human frailty and life altering decisions. Watson perfectly evokes an era while telling a story that is timeless.”
—Bill Cusumano, Nicola’s Books

“Pure. Simple. Classic. Little more needs to be said about Larry Watson’s utterly breath-taking coming-of-age novel featuring two high school chums, Johnny Dunbar and Matthew Garth. This novel takes a fresh look at that time of life, the teen years, when everything happens so suddenly and with such ferociousness: the fist crashing out of nowhere into your unsuspecting chin; the physical sick feeling as your heart breaks upon learning that ‘your’ girl isn’t; that head-to-toe rush of hot blood as you gaze knowingly at your first love; the utterly helpless feeling as your vehicle spins round and round over the black ice. Yes, youth, a time of intensity, immediacy, raw emotions, and suddenness. We remember it well. Now Larry Watson captures it all in this wonderful novel, American Boy. This book will become—is—a classic. I recommend it without reserve to every reader who appreciates life and fine literature.”
—Nancy Simpson, Book Vault

"[Watson] spins charm and melancholy around the same fingers, the result a soft but urgent rendering of a young man coming of age in rural America that is recognizable to even those of us who were never there." — Denver Post

Meet the Author

Larry Watson is the author of seven widely-acclaimed novels, including the best-selling Montana 1948, which was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a Best Book citation by the American Library Association, short-listed for IMPAC Dublin International Award, and published in ten foreign editions. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his family.

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American Boy 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stumbled upon this book while looking for something else, and am very glad I did. A well-written, quick read. I recommend it.
HoosierJoe More than 1 year ago
First off, I am a tough reviewer. So for you who think this deserves a higher rating, keep that in mind. I save 5 star reviews for classics and that level of writing. This is a solidly written novel. The story does drag there in the middle and gets too caught up on the whole teen boy sex fantasy thing. But those are the only faults in my opinion. Good character development, good dialogue (which is a tough one), believable story and plot. Predictable, but well done wrap up and ending. If I could go 3 1/2 stars I would.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Solid simple story of friendship, trying to make sense of the world as a teeenage boy faced with the challenges of fitting in standing out and coping with loss Watson hits the nail on the head thought provoking and heartbreaking men can definitely relate to the protagonists experience
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago