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Quiet, understated lives. With an undertow you won't forget.,
This review is from: The Free (Paperback)
Occasionally one comes upon a novel that is so good, so complexly enrapturing, that one doesn’t know how to make it stand out from the crowd enough to make everyone you know want to read it. I can do no better than quote another reviewer: Ursula Le Guin:
“Vlautin is one of the bravest novelists writing. Murderers, cheats, sadists, showy examples of the banality of evil are easy, but it takes courage to write a novel about ordinary people. They don’t fit into the cynic’s little boxes – they’re way too big… The common people, the ones who never get the breaks, the ones who need and know, compassion. An unsentimental Steinbeck, a heartbroken Haruf, Willy Vlautin tells us who really lives now in our America, our city in ruins.”
Vlautin’s skill is so understated and gracefully compulsive, you might not get it on a first reading. I finished it in a fever of anxiety, and turned back straight away to read it again. It is overwhelmingly honest and true – 273 pages of humanity stripped down to the core. Leroy is a young wounded Iraq veteran, sent to a hospital where he’s not expected to survive. But something of Leroy does survive. To be frank, I’m not sure what it is – dreams, feelings, an inner life of some kind, where he sometimes relives the moments before his death - and beyond.
Meanwhile, and intercut with this narrative, the hospital life continues. Does something leak from this world to wherever Leroy is? For Leroy is alive. Something of him survives, for a time at least. This novel is mesmerising, painful, pitiful, beautiful.
Life goes on all around the dying young man. Leroy’s mother sits at his bedside and reads aloud to him the science fiction books he used to love. A compassionate nurse, Pauline, tries to save a young girl, a drug addict whose ‘friends’ only want her back in the misery of her past. The nightman at the hospital, Freddie, only wants to be reunited with his daughters. But the crippling debt of medication for one of the children is burying him in hopelessness (If anything, this book will make you thankful for the NHS – though for how much longer, who knows?).
In his dreams, his inner life, Leroy escapes from the here and now, but no one can escape forever.