2008. Harper Perennial. Paperback edition includes Insights, Interview with author and limited edition CD soundtrack written and performed by Willy Vlautin and Paul Brainard. 192 pgs.
Other titles I’ve read by Vlautin: The Free and Lean on Pete. These two books are completely awesome; I may blog about them someday. After reading them I’ve been keeping an eye out for another opportunity to read something else by Vlautin and Northline ended up being it.
It’s hard to describe Vlautin’s work — his spare, clean prose is one element that is distinctive. Vlautin doesn’t create a world for you as much as he actually drops you in the middle of one. And what a world — the dingy and sometimes dangerous world inhabited by the lower class and working poor of the American West. Skinheads, alcoholic waitresses, disabled vets — these are the detritus blown in by the desert winds.
In Northline, Allison Johnson is an unlikely hero who trades Las Vegas and an abusive relationship for Reno and a long stumbling struggle towards something close to redemption. Along the way she meets with danger, much darkness — and the random kindnesses of strangers. Allison draws strength and stability from her imaginary friendship with Paul Newman — whose good counsel often springs from the story lines of the characters he has portrayed. It’s not as strange a mentorship as it sounds — as Allison has a desperate need for any strength and guidance she can find — and who’s to say that a make-believe conversation with an American film icon isn’t as worthy a devotion as that made before any saint or guru? Gradually, Allison’s life re-directs — sometimes in steps as simple as taking one less drink, struggling to get up in the morning, and taking a tentative chance on love.
I loved this book.