Written By: Willy Vlautin
Published By: Harper Perennial an imprint of Harper Collins Publisher, February 4, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Source: Publisher for a TLC Book Tour in exchange for an honest review
In his heartbreaking yet hopeful fourth novel, award-winning author Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for illuminating the disquiet of modern American life, captured in the experiences of three memorable characters looking for meaning in distressing times.
Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy’s group home, works two jobs yet still can’t make ends meet. He’s lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative–and dangerous–proposition.
Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her.
In crystalline prose, both beautiful and devastating, this “major realist talent” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) considers the issues transforming ordinary people’s lives–the cost of health care, the lack of economic opportunity, the devastating scars of war–creating an extraordinary contemporary portrait that is also a testament to the resiliency of the human heart. (IndieBound)
I have to admit I had never heard of Willy Vlautin prior to being offered a spot on this book tour, but after reading the summary of The Free I was intrigued. Taking this chance was a wonderful choice. Vlautin writes so honestly about the lives of these seemingly unconnected people. Leroy is the first the reader is introduced too. Leroy’s story is mostly about what is in his mind, a few lucid but terrifying moments as he is in emotional and physical pain. The inner fantasy life he’s created has a few familiar names and faces, and yet there is fear in that sci fi world he’s dreaming of. I was touched by the other two main characters in his life, who are the other two characters in this book.
Freddie is struggling in every way, financially strapped, his marriage ended and his children taken from him. He works almost all the time, with little sleep and no real rest. His day job in a paint store is the same he’s had since high school, his boss the son of the deceased owner, who does little to nothing. Freddie is minimally keeping up with this job, or his overnight shift at a group home. My heart ached for his plight, his desire to make things right with everyone in his life. His tenderness with Leroy and a woman he sees daily in a doughnut shop.
Pauline is a hospital nurse, Leroy is one of her patients and she is touched by his mother’s devotion and she realized how kind Freddie is as he visits Leroy and leaves him small gifts. Pauline also pulled at my heart, I wanted more for her. Vlautin writes her rather boring routine and the reader wonders what will shake her up. Her care, both detached yet kind, of her ill father seems robotic at times, and yet there are glimmers of how she wants to have some relationship with him. When she meets Jo, a young runaway living in filth with a group of young male drug addicts she is somehow softened. Jo is recovering from surgery for her abscessed legs, she’s a lost soul, alone, sad, and needs a friend, but she trusts no one. She and Pauline aren’t all that different.
This is not a happy feel good book, but there is hope, and there is a sense that good can conquer adversity. Vlautin’s writing takes the reader on quite the ride, realistic and honest as the real tragedies in peoples lives are. Highly recommend this book. Find out more about Willy Vlautin at his website and connect with him on Facebook.