I have lots to catch you up on, and that will have to come tomorrow. Tonight I have a book review for you and I have to sort out college stuff. Because yes, updates on that.
The Free - Willy Vlautin
Award-winning author Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters who are looking for a way out of their financial, familial, and existential crises, in his heartbreaking and hopeful fourth novel
Leroy Kervin is a 31 year old Iraqi War veteran living with a traumatic brain injury. Unable to dress or feed himself, or cope with his emotions, he has spent the last seven years in a group home. There he spends his days watching old sci-fi movies until he awakens one night with a clear mind and memories of his girlfriend. Realizing what his life has been he decides it would be better to die than to go on living this way. A failed suicide attempt leaves Leroy hospitalized where he retreats further into his mind in order to make sense of his existence.
Freddie McCall is a middle aged father working two jobs. He's lost his wife and kids, and is close to losing his house. He's buried in debt, unable to pay the medical bills from his daughter's childhood illness. As Freddie's situation becomes more desperate he undertakes a risky endeavor he hopes will solve his problems but could possibly end in disaster. Just as Freddie is about to lose it all, he is faced with the possibility of getting his kids back.
Pauline Hawkins takes care of everyone else around her. She cares for her mentally ill father out of a deep sense of obligation. As a nurse at the local hospital, she treats her patients and their families with a familiar warmth and tenderness. When Pauline becomes attached to a young runaway, she learns the difficult lesson that you can't help someone who doesn't help themselves.
The lives of these three characters intersect as they look for meaning in desperate times. Willy Vlautin covers themes ranging from health care to the economic downturn and housing crisis, to the toll war takes on veterans and their families. The Free is an extraordinary portrait of contemporary America and a testament to the resiliency of the human heart.
Let me start by saying I am SUCH a fan of Willy Vlautin. His books aren't ones I would have picked up in a bookstore on my own, but instead I was actually mailed The Motel Life and Northline a few years ago. And it wasn't for review, it was a thank you for reading and reviewing another book not related to him, and someone from the publisher sent me this box of books and these two were in it. Well I read them, LOVED them, and have always kept my eye out for Willy Vlautin since then.
So it's like fate that this one came around for review, so I jumped on it.
The thing about Willy's books is that they don't fit the mold. Normally with books I can tell you what happens in sequence and it's a story, there's a start, a climax, and an end. Willy's book aren't necessarily like that. I feel like they are more like diaries of American life- it's the every day story of people with real struggles and there isn't always a conclusion. It's a snap shot of what life is like for them.
Which is exactly how this book is. It is a snap shot of the lives of three characters that intersect and each character has a totally different struggle in life. You have the woman who takes care of everyone, it's just ingrained in her to help everyone. She tries to help a runaway who ultimately doesn't want help and it's a difficult situation for the woman. We have a military veteran that is disabled and hurting who decides to screw it all and end his life. Except it doesn't work and he's having to figure life out anyways. Then we have the single dad who is financially strapped and on the brink of losing it all. Each one of these scenarios are things you could go to any city in America and find someone who fits this bill. They struggle with the economy, the health care system, the mental health system, every stack is against them.
Yet they keep going.
Willy's books essentially read like American documentaries and are just so great. This one is no different. I read this book learning more about different plights and seeing a different perspective on things and I just feel like no matter how bad things are in my life, I'm not in any of these categories. Each character is so wonderfully developed that you feel like you know them. The entire book is based around the questions- what is freedom and are we ever really free?
I cannot highly recommend this book and his other books enough. If you are looking for seemingly perfect story development, really great writing, and a story that just hits it all the way home, this is it. Your search this year is over, you've found it, and you're welcome. So, so good.