TLC Book Tours: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The Free

There are some books that make you feel light as a feather, carefree as a little kid, in a world full of sprinkles, bubbles and teddy bears.

This book is not one of them.

The Free is a quiet book, a book in which sad things happen to regular people, people who probably walk those streets out there, in the suburbs, in the towns, who work hard to make it to another day, who slog through two jobs, who buy cans of chicken noodle soup from your local supermarket, who live, who dream, who hope.

Leroy Kervin has been living at the group home for disabled men ever since a roadside bomb destroyed the vehicle he was in, six months after his National Guard brigade was sent to Iraq.

“The life he’d known before the bomb no longer existed. That Leroy Kervin had vanished.”

But he wakes one night, with absolute clarity, memories flooding through him. And he panics:

“The fear of that would engulf him and when the fear passed, the fog would again come and he wouldn’t be able to remember anything. It would just start over. Was this all his life was?”

He decides to kill himself.

He throws himself off the stairs, waking the night watchman, Freddie, who calls 911.

“He’d always liked Leroy. For a man who couldn’t speak, whose brain had been caved in by war, he had personality. He liked Cap’n Crunch and would watch the science fiction channel for days on end. He had never picked a fight or become violent towards the other residents. He would fall into fits of despair when he refused to leave his bed, but who wouldn’t? And there were times, dozens of them, in the two years that Freddie had been there, when Leroy would wake him in the middle of the night. He would pull Freddie to the back door and knock on it. Freddie would find the key, unlock it, and they would go outside and look at the stars. Leroy would move around the small lawn like an old man, his head back, staring at the faraway galaxies.”

Freddie is one hard worker. After his night shift, which ends at six, he heads out to his second job at the paint store, always stopping to pick up doughnuts first. Freddie is up to his eyeballs in bills (his daughter has dysplasia and required multiple surgeries), his house has been mortgaged twice, there’s no heat, no garbage service, and he’s close to losing the electricity too. His wife has left him, and taken his two daughters to another state to live with her new fellow. And despite his crappy jobs and his money troubles, he takes the time to visit Leroy at the hospital every day.

One of Leroy’s nurses is Pauline:

“From a distance she had a pretty face. It was only close up that the lines around her eyes and lips and the scars from acne appeared. She looked tired.”

Pauline takes the time to chat with her patients, and after her shift ends at 11pm, heads to her father’s place to check on him. She has a kind of love-hate relationship with him, she feeds him, cleans up his place, and gets him to turn on the heat and take a shower, and makes him get out for some exercise. Her mother left when she was little, leaving her in the care of a mentally unstable father.

One of Pauline’s patients is a homeless teenager named Jo, who has abscesses on her legs, who reminds Pauline of herself at that age, “alone and voiceless and unwanted and worthless”.

We hear from Leroy mostly through his SF-like dreams which are his escape from the pain and from this world that he can no longer stand:

“He decided then that he would give up, that he would run his mind as far away as he could. He would lose himself inside himself. He would disappear from the world.”

It is a rather gloomy grey world that these three inhabit. A life of pain, physical and emotional. A lonely life, the people they love far away. A life of everyday struggles- paying the bills, making it to work, keeping one’s father fed and clean.

But there still exists that faint shade of hope. Freddie is devoted to his daughters, although they live in a different state and have little to say during their phone conversations. Pauline tries to bring some cheer to her patients’ days, especially Jo’s, bringing her cake from the cafeteria and chatting with her on her breaks. Leroy’s dreams, although dystopian, allow him to submerge himself in a fantasy world, where he is free from his pain.

A thoroughly engaging, very real read.

Willy VlautinWilly Vlautin is the author of four novels: The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete, which won two Oregon Book Awards, and The Free. He is the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine and lives in Scappoose, Oregon.

Find out more about Willy at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

Click here to hear/download music that Willy made for the book, watch the trailer, and much more!

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I received this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review.

Check out the other tour stops

Tuesday, February 4th: Love at First Book

Wednesday, February 5th: Man of La Book

Thursday, February 6th: The House of the Seven Tails

Friday, February 7th: A Patchwork of Books

Monday, February 10th: Between the Covers

Tuesday, February 11th: Books Speak Volumes

Wednesday, February 12th: My Book Retreat

Thursday, February 13th: Anita Loves Books

Tuesday, February 18th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Wednesday, February 19th: Mel’s Shelves

Thursday, February 20th: Olduvai Reads

Monday, February 24th: River City Reading

Tuesday, February 25th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]

Wednesday, February 26th: Bluestalking

Thursday, February 27th: Reading on a Rainy Day

Monday, March 3rd: Booksie’s Blog

Tuesday, March 4th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews

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The Good Terrorist

Oh, Alice, what would everyone else do without you? There wouldn’t be hot water – or even water of any kind – electricity, or money. Alice Mellings is definitely the central character of this novel, of this little group of vagabonds who have ties to the terrorists in Northern Ireland and Soviets. Alice, who is in her 30s, becomes the de facto organiser of the group, partly because the rest of them couldn’t be bothered to do otherwise.

This is a book in which nothing very much happens. And as a result, it could easily put off quite a few readers. It did set me back for a while – it was the first book in my recent Library Loot haul that I started reading but other books caught my attention and The Good Terrorist lagged behind. But the other day I picked it up again and found myself intrigued by this Alice, this woman, the engine behind the vagabond-terrorist train, as she powers her way to…. to essentially converting an abandoned old dump of a house to a liveable, comfortable dwelling. For the better good of their cause, she reckons. Her thoughts tend towards: “Where was she going to get money. Where. She had to have it. Had to have money. Had to.” She steals from her parents, takes handouts from her friends. There is something so naive and young about her, this 30-something woman who denies her middle-class roots, who lets her boyfriend (or whatever Jasper is – I can’t quite figure it out) step all over her while she gazes adoringly at him with puppy dog eyes. I think part of the reason for pursuing this book to its final pages is that need to figure out Alice. Why is Alice the doormat/organiser/oddity that she is?

As Faye describes Alice: “I’ve met people like you before, Alice. In the course of my long career. You cannot let things be. You’re always keeping things up and making things work. If there’s a bit of dust in a corner you panic.”

It’s been such a long time since reading Lessing. I remember buying The Golden Notebook from the Harvard Bookstore when travelling with my friend through parts of eastern US. I remember purchasing the book and reading it, but haven’t the faintest idea today what it’s about. But after The Good Terrorist, I’m looking forward to seeing what else Lessing has been up to. She has such an eye for creating characters. Self-absorbed, yes, but fascinatingly so.

Lessing has written so many books, both fiction and non-fiction, so I’d welcome any recommendations for future reads!