In this heartbreaking novel, Willy Vlautin offers up the delicate balance of beauty and sadness. The three main characters are not exactly intertwined, more like tangentially connected in the way all lives touch upon similar struggles and experiences.
Leroy, Freddie and Pauline are all struggling to stay afloat, to break free to overcome their demons – emotional, spiritual and physical. Vlautin does a wonderful job of presenting their circumstances and strengths even in light of their challenges.
“The first thing I learned is that you can be and do whatever you want. You just have to get up each morning and try to get there.”
Most of the writing is straightforward, almost like an essay designed to tug at our heartstrings. I appreciated how the author let me come to know Freddie and Pauline slowly and honestly. But, then there’s Leroy, the injured Iraq war vet, struggling with a debilitating brain injury. His opening scenes are dramatic and terrifically compelling. Then, most of his story is told as a semi sci-fi story taking place in his fractured mind. While I admire the writing skills in this approach, it severed some of the emotional connection for me. I found myself glancing ahead to see how many of these pages I had to get through until I returned to what, for me, was the “real” story.
Overall, I loved how much I came to care about these characters and their journeys. I rooted for them and cried for them. I felt how easily our lives can slip beyond our grasp. I practically clapped at the ending, which trusts readers to form their own conclusions.
Without melodrama, he tells a compelling story, one that could be mine or my neighbor’s. Recommend.
We Are Called to Rise
We Live in Water
The Burgess Boys
5 thoughts on “Glad I Read: The Free by Willy Vlautin”
Leroy’s story was a bit distracting for me, as well, but I loved Pauline and Freddie. I really like the way Vlauting portrays a perspective that I haven’t seen very often — people struggling on the brink of poverty. It definitely made me think.
Distracting is the perfect word Leah, but overall still so good. And I do feel like he is writing about that hidden population most of us don’t recognize.
I went to hear Willy Vlautin read from this book earlier this year, but because I am on my book buying ban, couldn’t buy a copy. A friend has lent it to me, so it won’t be in my 746 but you’ve made me think about reading it soon!
I like the book borrowing exception. Stay strong.