Monday, March 3, 2014
The Free by Willy Vlautin
Leroy Kervin is a former soldier. Badly wounded, he has spent eight years in a group home and despairs of ever regaining his health. His days are full of confusion and his nights full of horrific dreams in which he and his girlfriend are pursued by a group that wants to harm them. Pauline Hawkins is a night nurse at the home and Leroy is one of her charges. Pauline was raised by her father when her mother left them and now the roles have reversed and she takes care of her father. Freddie McCall is the night manager at the home. Crushed by medical debts, he works two jobs trying to stave off losing his home.
These are the protagonists of Willy Vlautin's fourth novel, The Free. Each has been crushed by life, by circumstances beyond their control. Yet each refuses to give up. By small acts, they reach out to others, helping where they can and just providing friendship and support where they can't. They are the backbone of America, those who will never be famous or rich but who plod on daily to do what they can to carve out a life a little less bleak than it would have been. They never lose hope that doing what they know is the right thing will eventually make life better for those around them. Whether that is being kind daily to the clerk in a donut shop or rescuing a young person from the streets, they do what is in front of them to do.
Although the subject matter seems bleak, the reader will finish this novel with a renewed sense of hope and a belief that most people will try to do what is best whenever they can make that choice. The characters could easily give up but refuse to do so. While they may skirt the law in their choices, those choices are ultimately in the service of morality. One can't help but get involved with Pauline and Freddie and cheer them on in their battles. Willy Vlautin has been praised as a novelist to watch, and this book strengthens that recommendation. This book is recommended for readers who want to know that our choices matter and that when we refuse to give up it will make a difference in the lives around us.