Willy Vlautin is the front man of an alternative country band called Richmond Fontaine; he has also to date written three novels. Heard of him? Nope, I didn’t think so.Northline is Willy’s second novel, but it was the first one that I actually read back in 2008. I must have read it at least a dozen times since. Like his music Willy’s books speak of loners, losers and the disenfranchised.
“I've decided I really am gonna be moving North. Like I always wanted. Just draw a line and go. A Northline.”Allison Johnson, fleas Las Vegas and her abusive boyfriend intent on making a new life for herself in Reno. But she is haunted by her past mistakes and it’s fair to say she’s damaged goods. Her only comfort comes from the imaginary conversations she has with the actor Paul Newman, and the characters he played in his movies.
This is at times both a grim and desolate book. Alison’s story is one of self harming, bad choices and low self esteem and it breaks my damn heart every time I read it. So you might well ask why do keep coming back? I do it simply because this is the most haunting thing I have ever read.Willy Vlautin’s style is sparse, simplistic and at times very direct. If you read some other reviews of his work you will find people talking of lack of depth and clunky progression. They have a point, but fuck ‘em, none of that matters. It’s all about the story and the humanity that bleeds through Vlautin’s writing.
You will find more accomplished books out there, but I doubt you’ll find a more honest and compelling one.