Willy Vlautin has a new book out. If you read Willy’s barmstorming debut, The Motel Life, that really is all you need to know. If you read The Motel Life you’ll read this and, what’s more, you’ll love it. Did you notice that I didn’t split a hair about reading The Motel Life? Did you notice how didn’t say ‘If you read The Motel Life and liked it…’ because, if you read The Motel Life you liked it. It’s as simple as that. Great book. Great author. Great new voice. The fact that Willy is as humble as humble pie maybe helps. Roundabout Motel Life time he was talking about being published as a sort of a happy accident. He said he had a couple novels, some short stories, he hoped it worked out. This is how Willy sees the world. He hopes for the best but, you know, he’s seen and heard about a whole lot of shit. He doesn’t take anything for granted and beauty, happiness, whatever you want to call it, when it comes, is either seized on and appreciated or missed cos, you know, his people are fearful, they’ve been hurt before, opportunities can pass you by if you don’t cling on.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little. Northline. That’s the title of Willy’s second book. It’s also the title of a Richmond Fontaine song (Willy is the lead singer of Richmond Fontaine, if you didn’t know), just as Allison Johnson, the person Northline largely concerns, is a song. In fact, ‘Allison Johnson’ (the song) was written by Willy to cheer Allison up a bit when he reached a point in this book where it looked like she didn’t have a way out of the shit she was in. But there’s always a way out of shit. This is one of the things that Willy Vlautin’s books teach us. We sort of dog Allison’s heels as she flees town, leaving her mother and her sister behind to get away from Jimmy Bodie who is her no-good man. The novel kicks off with a little bait and switch between Allison and Jimmy that ends with Allison cuffed to Jimmy’s bed and, you know, not in a good way. She winds up in Vegas and she finds work waitressing, mainly, struggles to get by, cries a lot. We get a glimpse of what life has been like for Allison, how she’s always found respite of sorts in the company of an imagined Paul Newman (a Paul Newman who talks much like Springsteen talks to Cusack in the movie of High Fidelity, a Paul Newman who can be Paul Newman at any point in his life, Hud-Newman, Fort Apache-Newman, Allison loves em all). Eventually, slowly, Allison haltingly starts to get her life on track – but Jimmy, broken and bruised Jimmy, lurks in the shadows and his promise-threat to come visit her (following a northern line) flaps its wings behind Allison wherever she is and whatever she’s doing, like some dirty great black bird.
What’s more, Willy and his buddy Paul Brainard have concocted an instrumental album – a full length album of wistful pretty acoustica – to be listened to as you read, a soundtrack to Northline if you will (that’s certainly how I took it, I sat at a dining chair by my porch doors Saturday just gone and read the book cover to cover with the album on repeat and it all worked out just fine for me). All of which makes, as far as I’m concerned, the most beautiful and satisfying book of 08 so far, far as I’m concerned.
Any Cop?: If you like your pages to drip and bleed a beautiful agony the likes of which we haven’t seen since Bukowski karked it probably then this is for you – in spades!