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American Boy Hardcover – September 13, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions; Stated First Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571310789
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571310781
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[Watson will] harvest a bumper crop of readers this autumn.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[Watson] spins charm and melancholy around the same fingers, the result a soft but urgent rendering of a young man coming of age in rural America that is recognizable to even those of us who were never there.”—Denver Post

“Watson has penned some of the best contemporary fiction about small-town America, and his new novel does not disappoint. . . . With his graceful writing style, well-drawn characters, and subtly moving plot, Watson masterfully portrays the dark side of small-town America. Highly readable and enthusiastically recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Eighteen years ago, Milkweed published Watson’s breakthrough novel, Montana 1948; now the author returns to Milkweed with another powerful coming-of-age story about a teenage boy [Matthew Garth] being shocked into maturity by a moment of sudden and unexpected violence. . . . Like Holden Caulfield trying to catch innocent children before they fall off the cliff adjoining that field of rye, Matthew struggles to save the Dunbars and, in so doing, save himself. He fails, of course, but that’s the point of much of Watson’s always melancholic, always morally ambiguous fiction: coming-of-age is about failure as much as it is about growth.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Watson’s new novel about a young man’s coming-of-age in rural Minnesota during the early ’60s never veers off course.”—Publishers Weekly

“There are a handful of writers I push on everyone I meet, and Larry Watson is one of them. For the past twenty years has quietly penned some of the wisest, most powerful novels in my library, and I am thrilled to make room on the shelf for his latest, a gripping, poignant coming-of-age story that opens with a gunshot that will ultimately bury its bullet in your heart. American Boy is an American classic.”—Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding and Refresh, Refresh

“Larry Watson’s latest book, American Boy, may be his best yet. With the patient skill of a seasoned writer, Watson tells an engaging coming-of-age story of a young man in Willow Falls, Minnesota during the 1960s. Youthful passions, heartbreaks, loyalties and moral uncertainties are all rendered in vivid color.”—David Rhodes, author of Driftless

About the Author

Larry Watson is the author of seven widely-acclaimed novels, including the best-selling Montana 1948, which was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a Best Book citation by the American Library Association, short-listed for IMPAC Dublin International Award, and published in ten foreign editions. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his family.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Larry Watson was born in 1947 in Rugby, North Dakota. He grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, and was educated in its public schools. Larry married his high school sweetheart, Susan Gibbons, in 1967. He received his BA and MA from the University of North Dakota, his PhD from the creative writing program at the University of Utah, and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Ripon College. Watson has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 2004) and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Larry Watson is the author of the novels IN A DARK TIME; MONTANA 1948; WHITE CROSSES; LAURA; ORCHARD; SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON; and AMERICAN BOY; the fiction collection JUSTICE; and the chapbook of poetry LEAVING DAKOTA. Watson's fiction has been published in ten foreign editions, and has received prizes and awards from Milkweed Press, Friends of American Writers, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association, New York Public Library, Wisconsin Library Association, Critics' Choice, and The High Plains Book Award. MONTANA 1948 was nominated for the first IMPAC Dublin international literary prize. The movie rights to MONTANA 1948 and JUSTICE have been sold to Echo Lake Productions and WHITE CROSSES and ORCHARD have been optioned for film.

He has published short stories and poems in Gettysburg Review, New England Review, North American Review, Mississippi Review, and other journals and quarterlies. His essays and book reviews have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and other periodicals. His work has also been anthologized in Essays for Contemporary Culture, Imagining Home, Off the Beaten Path, Baseball and the Game of Life, The Most Wonderful Books, These United States, Writing America, and West of 98.

Watson taught writing and literature at the University of Wisconsin/​Stevens Point for 25 years before joining the faculty at Marquette University in 2003 as a Visiting Professor. He has also taught and participated in writers conferences in Colorado, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, St. Malo and Caen, France.

Larry's latest novel, AMERICAN BOY, was published by Milkweed Editions in 2011. He and Susan live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They have two daughters, Elly and Amy, and two grandchildren, Theodore and Abigail.

Customer Reviews

I thought at every turn, this is where the story will go wrong.
John F. Lehman
The characters are well defined and realistic and the events make for a very logical story.
I enjoyed the book and now am anxious to read more from Larry Watson.
Heidi Backell- Patton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on October 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Larry Watson's AMERICAN BOY is an all-American, universal kind of story that will resonate with anyone who grew up in the American heartland of the 50s and 60s. The typical small town of those decades is portrayed perfectly - those downtown blocks that held hardware and grocery stores with the local lawyer and doctor upstairs over the drugstore. Even the latest Plymouth-Dodge innovation, that infamous and short-lived push-button transmission, is featured, the same one that was immortalized in songwriter Greg Brown's "Brand New '64 Dodge."

Matthew Garth is our unlikely hero, a fatherless 16-17 year-old in the 1962-63 school year, who has attached himself for the past several years to the Dunbars, a prominent family in Willow Falls, Minnesota, a small community of a couple thousand. Johnny Dunbar is his classmate and closest friend, but all that will change when an "older woman" enters the picture in the person of Louisa Lindahl. The head of the family, Dr. Dunbar, is a pillar of the local community, although there are early intimations of that pillar being made of salt, with feet of clay.

Like many small towns, Willow Falls is a study in contrasts and opposites. The falls is not really a falls; Frenchman's Forest is not really a forest, but a dark and secret place where the two then-younger boys first learned about the mechanics of sex from an ill-informed older boy, and which later serves as backdrop to more intimate experimentation.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on November 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was raised on a farm outside a small town of 800 or so with two doctors who made house calls. One was so loved that they named the high school after him. I also graduated from high school in 1962, so I could definitely relate to Larry Watson's AMERICAN BOY.

At the beginning of the story, Matt Garth and Johnny Dunbar, son of a local doctor, Rex Dunbar, are bosom buddies. Some call the doctor "Rex Morgan" because of his similarity to the cartoon character. The doctor includes Matt in his family affairs, inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner. Matt's own father was killed in a car accident, and Doctor Dunbar has become Matt's substitute father. The boys function as assistants to the doctor who teachers both about medicine at every opportunity. A young woman enters the picture as Louisa Lindahl suffers a bullet wound in an argument with her boyfriend. The wound is just a nasty scratch and once again the doctor takes advantage of a teachable moment, showing them how close the girl came to serious injury. In the process they catch a glimpse of one of her breasts.

When she recovers, the doctor hires Louisa as a receptionist file clerk. She's definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, and she quickly sets her cap for the doctor. She also buys beer for the boys and helps them drink it; Matt falls hard for her. Matt begins to see that his hero might have feet of clay during a hockey game when the doctor retaliates after Matt checks Johnny into the boards. He then receives a lecture from the doctor who stitches a gash in Matt's forehead.

Matt's mother revels in town gossip. Everybody knows everybody in a small town; I remember the era when most people belonged to a party line. You could listen in on your neighbor's conversations, something called rubbernecking.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on February 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Matthew Garth is a teenage boy growing up in the midwest in the 1960's. His father deserted him and his mom a long time ago, and Matt gratefully allows himself to be all but adopted by the well-to-do family of the town's only MD, Rex Dunbar. The turmoil of the 60's has yet to hit this corner of Minnesota, but Matt is suffering all the angst of the typical 17 year old. His world is about to be turned upside down, however, when a lovely young gunshot victim is first treated, then taken in, by the Dunbars, and Matt falls helplessly in love with the seductive Louisa. Unfortunately, so does Dr. Dunbar.

American Boy is the quintessential coming-of-age novel. The author's writing style is polished and pleasing, but while author Watson skillfully recreates the ambience of his retro setting, Willow Falls, the only new element here is the rivalry between the callow, unsophisticated Matt and the worldly, experienced, movie-star-handsome doctor. The plot contains its drama, but from the start, it's clear that the outcome can be nothing other it is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Hans Mouritzen on March 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am now on his fourth book, and I love them all, except for "In a dark time" - which I believe was his first novel. He is a very eloquent writer, but still easy to read, and he shows a profound insight into the thinking and behavior of human beings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pamela A. Poddany VINE VOICE on July 18, 2014
Format: Paperback

It's 1962 and teenagers Matt Garth and Johnny Dunbar are as close as brothers. Matt, who hails from the wrong side of town, is an honorary member of the Dunbar household which consists of the not-to-be-questioned Doctor Dunbar, his mousey and obedient wife, son Johnny, and the Dunbar twin sisters. Matt is hardly ever home with his waitress and gossip-loving mom who is 'raising' Matt alone. The Dunbar clan is Matt's family and he is included in every aspect of their life.

So, it's not strange that when there's been a shooting of a young woman in the area Matt and Johnny are out amongst the search party hoping to find Louisa Lindahl alive. Doctor Dunbar, being the only physician in town, cares for Louisa. Soon, Louisa becomes a permanent fixture in the lives of Johnny and Matt, along with the rest of the Dunbar family.

Louisa carries a mysterious aura about her and is mature, attractive, enticing, and alluring to both Johnny and Matt. The boys carry on with their normal activities -- school, homework, sports, hanging out with friends, sneaking booze and partying. Suddenly, Louisa becomes a part of their scene, even though she is older and should know better.

Prattle rules in this small Minnesota town, Louisa being the main subject. Louisa has an agenda all her own and as you are quickly turning the pages of this book you just know that something corrupt and wrong is going to happen. Watson throws in the perfect blend of suspense and normalcy -- the story is utterly flawless in its plot, path, and finish.

I loved this book and enjoy Watson's writing. He writes about real people and true situations with honesty and grit. He also knows the difference between good and bad and right and wrong.
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