Whiskey reads as cool as a Western and as fundamental as the Bible. Reminiscent of stories by Cormac McCarthy or Annie Proulx, the novel begins in a bar in Electric City, Washington, where Andre is served divorce papers and his brother, Smoker, enlists his help in retrieving Smoker’s missing daughter, Bird, from a religious mountain sect.
The events of Whiskey unfold through sections with biblical titles: The “Exodus” chapters cover the continuation of the opening scene in 1991, as the brothers search for Bird while accompanied by a captured bear. “Lamentations” is the story of Andre, the more reserved and sensitive of the two, and his wife, Claire, who meet in 1983 at the high school where they both teach. Andre remains sober as long as he and Claire are together, but dissolves into drink when their relationship is threatened. “Genesis” follows Andre and Smoker’s alcoholic parents: Peg, a bronze-haired sex-crazed beauty, and Pork, a Native rancher, from 1950 to 1971. Pork “wanted [Peg] as some want to be devoured by their God. It is why she married him and why she divorced him, too.” They both make and break each other.
Author Bruce Holbert alternates between these threads, breaking the plot apart instead of building it up. As the characters run from their lives, they speak in clipped dialogue, the sentences sparse, as though there’s no patience for long-windedness or hope. “Animal ain’t ever been as alive as when it is dying,” Smoker tells Claire, and similarly, Andre, Smoker, Peg and Pork are most vividly portrayed when each is at his or her lowest.
What they’re running toward—the stability that eludes them—defines who these characters are. Is death the only resolution? Whiskey punches you in the gut, a blow that lands right at your core.