After finishing Willy Vlautin’s debut novel, The Motel Life, I can say with great pride that I am a fan of his, even though his style will warrant some detractors. Some will call it overly romantic, overly simple and very derivative of other, better writers like Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver. And I have to agree that these are all valid arguments against this book and Vlautin’s talents in general, but there is just something so simple and so sweet about the way he writes. I wouldn’t go so far as too call it brilliant or even original, but his stories are all within shouting distance of the many legendary authors that he is so frequently compared to. Like them, he brings poetry to the downtrodden, relishes in the sweet victories of small accomplishments, and thoughtful crafts his characters with love and wisdom, even as he crushes their spirits in the emotional meat grinder. One thing Vlautin will never be accused of is being sentimental. He writes about these people living on the fringes of society, ice-skating on the breaking point in a way that is interesting and quite readable, but one will never get the feeling that they are missing out on living like this by growing up in privilege. Because while, at my most cynical, I could agree with most that Vlautin’s work really romanticizes the lives of the lower class in the way that makes Steinbeck’s book seem really outdated, I also enjoy these books quite a bit for how emotionally connected I feel toward them, so for the most part he is just giving a voice to those unable to have their own. Two of those lost souls are at the center of this book are brothers Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan, two aimless drifters living paycheck to paycheck, surviving on loads of hope and imagination. At the opening of the book, Frank wakes up in his home to the news that a crippled, slightly drunk Jerry Lee just ran over a young man and killed him. Panicking, they dump the body of at the hospital and pray no one saw them. The rest of the novel is as loose and lacking in plot as their lives. We learn about Franks’ talent for storytelling, and the love he once had for Annie, a girl just as troubled as he was, and the crappy hand life has dealt the two brothers, with a father addicted to gambling, and a mother who died while they were still teens. They find happiness where they can, in small increments, like a successful bet over the first Tyson/Holyfield fight, and weather trouble when they can, like when Jerry Lee tries to kill himself by shooting himself in his partially amputated leg. The stories Jerry fashions can get a bit old and kind of silly, but Vlautin always sprinkles in a bit of levity at the beginnings and ends of them, especially at the book’s somber conclusion. A little rough for some, and a little too much of a stunt for others, I liked this book a lot, and can’t wait to delve deeper into Vlautin’s work.