Order No Rainbows

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The Motel Life / Willy Vlautin

on December 5, 2013

I don’t normally write book reviews, but I’m making an exception for Willy Vlautin, because he’s my current favourite writer.


I’ve just finished re-reading all of Willy’s books and can’t wait to see the movie adaptation of his first book – The Motel Life. I’m often disappointed by movie versions of books I like but in this case the trailer looks excellent and seems to capture the feel of the book.

If you don’t know who Willy Vlautin is, he’s an American singer/songwriter who is also an author. His band, Richmond Fontaine, have released 9 albums, and each song is like a little story, played/sung in an alt.country style. My favourite Richmond Fontain song is Capsized:

All of Willy’s books are excellent – a combination of great characters with tragicomic storylines. The first book, The Motel Life, tells the story of two brothers, Frank and Jerry, whose lives are turned upside down following one brother’s involvement in a car accident in which someone was killed. The brothers go on the run and the plot includes the older brother telling the other one stories to take his mind off their troubles.


Willy’s second book, Northline, tells the story of Allison, who is running away from Jimmy, her violent boyfriend, and trying to build a new life for herself. Allison is helped along the way by Paul Newman, her favourite movie star, who crops up every now and again to give her some down-to-earth advice. The book comes with a cd soundtrack, which is unusual – I don’t think I’ve ever had a soundtrack with a book before but now I wish there were more of them.


Lean on Pete is Willy’s most recent novel and tells the hearbreaking story of Charley, desperately searching for his aunt after his father dies, and Lean on Pete, a poorly treated racehorse. This one made me cry all three times I read it – not just because I like horses, but because the story is just so incredibly sad, and I can imagine that so many people are in situations similar to Charley’s, with no way out. It’s clear that Willy has spent a lot of time around racetracks and has a feel for the things that go on there, and the kind of characters that can be encountered in the horse world.


All of the books can be purchased directly from Willy Vlautin’s webstore, and you can get an autographed/personalised copy, if that appeals to you. For me though the stories are enough, and I’m looking forward to reading Willy’s next book, The Free when it’s released in 2014. The description on the website says:

Vlautin’s haunting fourth novel, The Free (2014), demonstrates his extraordinary talent for illuminating the disquiet of modern American life. While his deftly-etched characters wrestle the everyday battles of the working class, they never lose hope, always searching for meaning and human connection in distressing times. This ambitious novel extends his singular literary vision with a lovingly rendered story of three intersecting lives.

“In The Free, Willy Vlautin gives us a portrait of American life that is so hard and so heartbreaking that it should be unbearable, but it isn’t. The straightforward beauty of Vlautin’s writing, and the tender care he shows his characters, turns a story of struggle into indispensable reading. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.”
— Ann Patchett

Willy has also released a spoken word cd – A Jockey’s Christmas. I’m looking forward to checking that out – ’tis the season after all…


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