AMERICAN BOY – “We could have been happy.”

February 26, 2012

American Boy by Larry Watson

Milkweed Editions, 2011

$16.32, 224 pages

I am in awe of this book. I thought at every turn, this is where the story will go wrong. After all how many coming-of-age books are there, and with the exception of a Catcher in the Rye or Huck Finn, they all do. Watson doesn’t. In fact I left the book wondering why I had learned so little from my own childhood. It probes family relationships, the lasting significance of that first kiss and what it can really mean when someone says, “We could have been happy.”

Let me add my poem on the subject. I wrote it after reading some letters my deceased mother had written years ago to an aunt who has just died.

Best To All
Reading old letters from my mother
to my aunt who died at 94 last year,
I realize there was a gracefulness
between women. No mention of my
dad’s dementia, of his brother who
was engaged to a woman for twenty
years—then she left to marry my
second cousin. And Uncle Clarence?
He quit his job and went out in the
woods to die.
“We will have our Easter dinner with
friends.” she writes. “Can you believe
summer is almost here.” The water
pipes freeze in winter, a neighbor’s
house burns to the ground, cars rust,
I play outside alone. But now I picture
her with a cup of coffee, perhaps
a cigarette, writing at a table, a patch
of sun reflecting off of it. Everything
is just fine. Everything is all right. 

Order this book directly from Amazon. Click the title below:

American Boy



  1. Oh wow. After such a glowing review, it’s going on my to read list.

  2. Going to look for the Kindle sample after leaving here, but first had to mention that I love the poem.

    • Thanks, Tracy. John

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