‘As Good as Gone’ by Larry Watson (2016) – 341 pages
‘As Good as Gone’ takes place in Montana in 1963. It is difficult for me to accept that the year 1963 is farther back in time from today than World War I was in 1963. We are dealing here with ancient times. To me it seems like only yesterday.
This is a western story of an old Montana hermit cowboy reuniting with the family he left decades earlier. Of course Larry Watson could write this novel in his sleep, blindfolded, with both his arms tied behind his back. The real question is whether or not Watson could make this story meaningful and entertaining to me.
My problem with ‘As Good as Gone’ is that I did not like this old vigilante cowboy that Watson seems to be trying hard to set up as some sort of hero. This guy is the kind who will shoot first and ask questions later. This man is quick to take matters into his own hands, especially if anyone is a threat to a member of his own family. This so-called hero has it both ways. As a child and young man he had an upper middle class existence with a prosperous living through the family real estate business. He leaves his family and business behind to become a lone cowboy presumably taking some of that real estate money with him.
“Many people believe that he once caved in a man’s head because the man made a vulgar remark about his wife.”
Due to his daughter-in-law’s medical emergency, this cowboy returns to the old family home to watch his grandchildren. That is one plot point that is difficult to accept but does get the story rolling. The kids have problems of their own which the cowboy deals with in his reckless manner. The cowboy even starts shacking up with the lady next door who immediately falls in love with him.
Perhaps the best example of the cowboy’s hard-hearted social philosophy is what he says during a run-in with an Indian who has defaulted on the rent. The cowboy tells his new-found ladyfriend “We won, they lost. Simple as that.” And the Indians kept on losing and losing for over a century and still today due to white men’s – probably a lot of Montanans – attitudes like this cowboy’s. These wannabe cowboys don’t seem to realize how much the cards have been stacked in their favor. Their ignorance confounds me.
There is a side story about the daughter-in-law’s medical problems which really doesn’t go anywhere and could as well have been dropped. The main story line is glorifying this old stubborn cowboy, and it does have its entertaining aspects. However ‘As Good as Gone’ could have been a much deeper story if Watson could have confronted the more negative issues of this cowboy’s state of mind.