cover image Whiskey


Bruce Holbert. MCD, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-28918-8

Holbert (Lonesome Animals) returns with a violent, gruesome, and beautiful tale that, despite its despondency, is perversely winning. The story is set in a hard-luck Washington town near the Grand Coulee Dam. Part Native American, Andre is a beloved math teacher and “minor tavern legend” known for his fierceness in bar brawls. His mother is a woman capable of putting “a year’s living into a long weekend,” as can his father (when he’s not locked up). Andre’s younger brother, Smoker, is a perennially broke, charming ladies’ man. All are alcoholics, vulnerable and vicious, damaged and doing great damage to one another. The novel darts back and forth across three periods in the family’s history. In the “Genesis” sections, which begin in 1981, Andre and Smoker fend for themselves in a dysfunctional household, and “Lamentations” describes the courtship and marriage of Andre and a fellow teacher. In “Exodus,” Andre, his marriage breaking up, accompanies Smoker to retrieve the latter’s daughter from a preacher’s remote, cultish commune, picking up an impressive litany of injuries—and a bear—along the way. The violence in this rangy, brilliant narrative is often grotesque, but this excess is tempered by dry humor, wonderful dialogue, and dark wisdom. (Mar.)