10 April 2013

Willy Vlautin: The Motel Life (2006)

The Motel Life is Willy Vlautin's first novel, and comparisons with Nick Cave have been made because of his career as a singer and songwriter: in Richmond Fontaine, the alternative country band from Portland, Oregon (although Vlautin originates from Reno, Nevada). The book comes with praises from such writers as John Burnside, David Peace and Niall Griffiths, and Raymond Carver has been mentioned as a strong influence.
In this novel people get drunk a lot to try to heal the hurt, but of course it never cures things and can get you into further messes. The self-destructive cycle is a vehicle that's very difficult to leave, and is a situation pretty much summed up by Jerry Lee shooting himself in what remains of his amputated leg because he feels so bad about killing a young cyclist by running him over after a drinking session. But then, the reader somehow knows what kind of book this will be when the first sentence begins with Jerry Lee's drunken brother Frank Flannigan (the narrator) describing a duck flying straight through his motel room window.
The world Vlautin creates is one of marginal characters, the uneducated, dysfunctional families, the poor, people who'd blow borrowed money on crazy bets, hookers, and of course drunks. But the novel is very compassionate, non-judgemental, and almost everyone is essentially seen as good but wounded, a product of their environment. Disastrous decisions are made, and that's inevitable, but in the end you have to have hope because 'it's better than having nothing at all'.
This is a very moving story.

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