Book Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin

Posted February 11, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 13 Comments

Book Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin
The Free by Willy Vlautin
Published by Harper Perennial on Feb. 4, 2014
Pages: 320
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.


  • The more I read about this book, the more I want to read it, but I can’t buy anything!! I think I might have to make a trip to the library for this one. I’m a sucker for intertwined narratives too!

    • Oh no! Hopefully your library will have it.

  • Did this book come with a soundtrack list like his last book? I thought that was cool.

    • I think I read in another review that it does have a soundtrack, but I didn’t know about it when I read it!

  • I really enjoyed the way the stories intertwined in this one, too, and loved it for its simplicity. It totally worked for this narrative, even though I tend to like my language a little more flowery, too.

  • “I thought The Free was a great book that says a lot about…lost souls fighting despair with hope.” Sounds ultimately uplifting, which I like in a story.

  • I agree with Jennine! I’ve been worried about picking this up for fear it would be too dark, but your review plus Rebecca’s recommendation is selling me on it 🙂

    • It is pretty dark, but I don’t think it was TOO dark, if that makes sense.

  • Isi

    Sounds good, with those three characters so different but yet so similar 🙂

  • You know how they say sometimes your mind skips word? When I first read the title I only saw “Free Willy” but obviously this book is NOT about freeing willy. That said, this sounds like a great book. As much as they depress me, the books about how the system let them down fascinate me.

    • Hahaha! When I got this book in the mail, Tom held it up and covered Vlautin on the cover so it did say The Free Willy!

  • “people who are kind of down but not quite out — the hardworking 99%” I can completely identify with these kind of people. Sounds like this book is not to be missed!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  • Pingback: Willy Vlautin, author of The Free, on tour February 2014 | TLC Book Tours()