Published by Harper Perennial on Feb. 4, 2014
Source: Publisher, TLC Book Tours
We all know I have a weakness for novels about separate characters whose lives are connected in some way. In The Free, Willy Vlautin tells the stories of three men and women who are trying to get by in a difficult world.
Leroy is an Iraq War veteran living in a group home. A war injury left him brain damaged, and he struggles with the simplest tasks. He takes a drastic measure to escape the misery of his existence, drawing the reader into a dream world inside his head.
Freddie is the night worker at the group home. He is separated from his wife and daughters, drowning in medical bills and child support payments. Although he doggedly works two jobs, he can barely keep his head above water.
Pauline is a nurse who cares for Leroy. A kind-hearted but struggling single woman, she takes care of her mentally ill father and drinks too much wine after work. When a young runaway is admitted to the hospital, Pauline grows attached to the girl and does everything she can to help her turn her life around.
There’s some pretty heavy stuff going on in this novel: young lives destroyed by war, inability to care for one’s family, mental illness, drug addiction, and abuse. America has failed these characters in so many ways. They’re good people just trying to get through another day, not necessarily overcoming obstacles, but pushing on despite them. And yet, Vlautin keeps this novel from growing too depressing by shining rays of hope on each of his characters.
The Free is written in very simple, clear prose. Although I tend to prefer novels that have flowing, beautiful prose rich with metaphors, I think Vlautin’s style worked really well with this book. Set in Washington State, it’s a novel about people who are kind of down but not quite out — the hardworking 99%. The pared-down, direct writing style seemed to fit the characters Vlautin portrays.
I thought The Free was a great book that says a lot about American culture, about lost souls fighting despair with hope.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.