cover image Whiskey When We’re Dry

Whiskey When We’re Dry

John Larison. Viking, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2044-7

True Grit meets Yentl in Larison’s evocative debut. In the post-Civil War West, 17-year-old Jessilyn Harney’s father dies, leaving their financially strapped homestead in her hands. She decides that the only way of saving it is to track down her errant older brother, Noah—who left several years back and has since become a notorious outlaw—and convince him to return home. Since it’s dangerous to be a woman traveling alone, she chooses to masquerade as a boy. Using her talent as a sharpshooter to catch the eye of the state governor, Jessilyn joins his militia on the hunt for her brother, who is regarded as a folk hero by many. Passing herself off as a boy causes all sorts of problems for Jessilyn, who has to negotiate relationships with brothel girls, a closeted militiaman, the governor’s daughter, and, later, a female outlaw. Finally reunited with her brother, Jessilyn holes up with his wild bunch only to be hunted down by the militiamen she once served with. Larison has developed a pitch-perfect voice for his intrepid heroine and populated the story with a lively crew of frontier types. Although overlong and sluggish in places, this is a winning tale of sexual identity in the Old West. (Aug.)