Penzler Pick, October 2000:
This disturbing first novel, set in Nevada, is the story of Neil Garvin, a high school football star who, in his own words, tells us of the night at Fred Billings's house when he drank more beer than he can remember.
Drinking beer is what high school jocks do, and for Neil, it also drives away the anger he feels at his father, at his life, and at the fact that his mother left them when Neil was a baby. Neil blames his distant and abusive father for driving her away. A charming man to those who don't know him, Neil's father spends his leisure time drinking Midori and listening to Neil Diamond, after whom he has named his son. (The scene where Neil's father takes him to Las Vegas for a Neil Diamond concert is a memorable one in a book filled with great scenes.)
Driving home from Fred's house in his father's car, Neil hits and kills a boy who is walking home from the party. Drunk and disoriented, Neil stuffs the body in the trunk, drives home, and passes out. When the body disappears from the trunk, Neil knows his father has found the body and hidden it, although not a word about this passes between them. Since Neil's father is the sheriff of the town, he is called in by the dead boy's family to find their missing son.
The investigation is seen through Neil's eyes as he squirms through his father's seeming inability to find any clues about the missing boy and his own growing closeness to the boy's family, especially his sister, who see Neil and his father as friends and allies. He also watches as his father battles with the FBI (the dead boy's uncle is an agent) over jurisdiction of the case.
While it is difficult to feel sorry for Neil as the net slowly closes around him, and his fear of being caught turns to self-loathing, the reader knows exactly what happened and feels like a participant. It is an uncomfortable feeling for the reader and a difficult mood for the author to maintain, but Alan Watt manages to pull it off without a hitch. --Otto Penzler
From Publishers Weekly
Highly readable, if finally unconvincing, Watt's debut novel is the story of a bitter family legacy and a traumatic reckoning, as Watt explores the reasons an abusive father might risk everything to cover up a crime committed by his damaged, equally cruel teenage son. Inebriated after a party with his high school football team, Neil Garvin, 17, first-string quarterback and "the best arm in Nevada," accidentally kills a classmate, Ian Curtis. Neil's father, the sheriff of their small town near Las Vegas, covers up for his son. Ian's parents report the boy missing, and more than 300 students join in a search led by Neil's father. Mrs. Curtis asks her brother, an FBI agent, to help, and as the FBI tightens the net, Neil and his father must face some truths about their family. Watt, who is also a stand-up comic, has a knack for deploying well-timed plot points to reveal crucial information. The book starts off with faithful characterizations of the sad, angry father and son, and the dialogue between them is appropriately savage, but there are key moments in the story that don't ring true. The most unconvincing scene occurs at the narrative's dramatic apex, when Neil finally, and improbably, discovers the dark secret of why his mother left home when he was three. At the same time, the reasons for Neil's hellish childhood become melodramatically clear. Still, there are certain pleasures in this novel, including incisive scenes that capture the petty cruelties and poignant betrayals of adolescents. The author also gives vivid voice to a character type that has become a staple in modern American fiction: a man unmoored by divorce and filled with festering anger and alienation. Watt takes the archetype a step further, delineating how the father's desperate behavior affects his son, and how this pair find an uneasy peace in breaking the chain of lies and violence. 5-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.