“Whiskey When We’re Dry” by John Larison
c. 2018, Viking
It was right here a minute ago.
You saw it, but now it’s gone, and you have to find it. Beneath a newspaper, atop a shelf, under a blanket; wherever it is, it was right here — and as in the new book Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison, you’d search years to have it back.
Jessilyn Harney never knew her mother.
She died in childbirth, leaving Jessilyn’s father to raise Jessilyn and her brother, Noah, who was five years older. Noah took care of Jessilyn when their father drank too much syrup. He was a good brother, making sure she was warm, dressed, and protected — until the year she turned 13 and, as young men are wont to do, Noah fought with his father, and he rode away.
For a few years, Jessilyn did what she could to help her father run things, but he’d gotten addled in that fight and was never the same. Perhaps Sensing the truth, he schooled her on sharpshooting for protection, and he talked of marrying her off. Six days after he left on a solitary ride, Jessilyn found her father’s bones scattered. Not knowing what to do, she asked if the nearby Mormon family might take her in, and they denied.
That was when Jessilyn decided to search for her brother. She went into an old wooden box that Noah left behind. She found some of his outgrown clothes — things that fit her fine — and she became a young man called Jess.
Women on the frontier stuck out, Jess learned, but a baby-faced man seemed mostly ignored. Still, he was soft and that cost him; he was unwise to the world, and that cost more, though guns would ultimately protect Jess and they’d generate money in wagers with fools who thought a lad wasn’t good with a Colt.
But Jess didn’t want money; he only wanted one thing.
Noah had taken up with some outlaws, and there was a bounty on his head, dead or alive. Sharpshooting was fun, but Jess only wanted to find Noah before the law did.
Reading Whiskey When We’re Dry is like opening dozens of little gifts at Christmas: each time a surprise occurs, it’s a delight — the last, no less than the first. Author John Larison does that over and over again, gifting readers with a great opening, extraordinary characters, and plenty to unwrap.
Set in the years following the Civil War, in an unnamed state, this book offers a lot to fans of many genres: for sure, this is an oater, complete with hosses and outlaws. With stunningly-described scenery, it’s a book for adventurers. There’s a gauzily-told romance with another woman here, and small crushes on gun-slinging men. It’s un-PC, so beware! There’s heroism in this novel, but not where you might anticipate it.
Take this book on that last-minute vacation. Or take it to bed, but don’t expect to sleep. Take Whiskey When We’re Dry — take, it, take it wherever you go. If you’re in need of a sweeping epic that offers plenty of mini-shocks throughout, it’s right in here.