In the spring of 1885, 17-year-old orphan Jessilyn Harney disguises herself as a boy and sets off across the mountains to find her outlaw brother Noah and bring him home. A talented sharpshooter, Jessilyn's quest lands her in the employ of the territory's violent, capricious governor, whose militia is also hunting Noah.
As in Charles Portis’ classic True Grit, much of the appeal of the telling hangs upon the distinct voice of its narrator, and Jesse’s narration combines folksy vernacular with an easy loping gait, punctuated by the ringing cadences of the Good Book ... It is comfortable, burnished Western prose that goes down smooth with hardly a false note. Yet for all its wistful cowboy poetry, the story told here is decidedly unromantic, piercing the heroism of the Old West and highlighting the experiences and identities of marginalized people who were traditionally written out of the script. Larison strikes a fine balance between satisfying and surprising our expectations, in an enjoyable addition to the ever-evolving literature of the American West.
The words 'genre' and 'gender' have a root in common, and in his western...John Larison looks to subvert both ... Mr. Larison can turn a sharp phrase...but he’s a writer who takes his time, filling scenes with atmosphere and reflection. (As though to signal his departure from Leonard’s rulebook, he opens by mentioning the weather.) The novel suffers from inconsistency. The propulsive first section follows Jessilyn’s search for Noah. In the second, she joins his mountain redoubt and idles the time hiding from authorities. A more disciplined writer would have tightened the latter portion considerably. Even so, there are pleasures to be had from a book that moves at an amble—that sometimes takes a detour for no reason except to admire the view.
Western novels are cool again, and Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison is a perfect example of why. Set in 1885 in the heart of the Midwest, the novel shirks the traditional white-hat-versus-black-hat shtick for a more grounded, emotional view of life on the range ... Like Philipp Meyer’s The Son or Robert Olmstead’s Savage Country, Whiskey When We’re Dry draws on Larison’s own experiences with the 'cowboy arts' to paint a vivid portrait of the American West as witnessed by an unforgettable character.