Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison is a refreshing take on the Western genre, written in a vivid style with an instantly unforgettable protagonist.
In the spring of 1885, seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Harney finds herself orphaned and alone on her family’s homestead, longing for her gun-slinging fugitive brother. She binds her chest, cuts her hair, and rides off into the unknown with only her Pa’s gun for company. A talented sharpshooter, Jess finds herself employed by a governor with a personal vendetta against her brother, whose violent militia will stop at nothing to hunt him down. Torn between conflicting loyalties and personal questions about family, identity and sexuality, Jess struggles to ride the path she’s forged for herself.
Whiskey When We’re Dry reads like a classic Western but feels undeniably modern in its themes, seamlessly blending tight-packed action and tobacco smoke with a clever, introspective queer protagonist of colour. It’s wanderlust and wish-fulfilment at its finest, and it’s no wonder the press have loved it so far:
John Larison’s Whiskey When We’re Dry has all the classic elements of a Western saga: endlessly promising yet punishing land, tobacco and booze, corrupt lawman and kindly prostitutes, good guys and bad guys with guns blazing. But it’s the particular story of our hero, Jesse, and her gender fluidity that makes this a truly excellent book”
— Henry Hughes, Harvard Review
A smooth yet bracing Western yarn that both celebrates and subverts the romance of the Old West through more complex contemporary perspectives on gender and race…. 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.” — Seattle Times
If you, like me, couldn’t get enough of Jess, you’re in luck: the film rights to the story were scooped up sometime last year, meaning we may well see more of her very soon…
Whiskey When We’re Dry is out 25th July from No Exit
(9780857303189, p/b, £8.99)