Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Review: "Northline" by Willy Vlautin
It must be hard to transition from one art form after being hugely successful and notable in a very different one for so long, but out of the authors I have encountered who have made such a switch, Willy Vlautin has got to be among the best. Mainly known for being the lead singer and songwriter for the band Richmond Fontaine (never listened to their music, it’s not really my thing), to date he has written four novels that have been met with wide acclaim and it is easy to see why. He knows what he is talking about: the characters, the settings, the mood, the discontent, it all comes across as deeply realistic and nary is a false note hit in either of the two novels of his I have read, The Free and The Motel Life. But this book, Northline, his second, seems to only highlight his weaknesses, mainly the limits of his narrative prowess and the repetitive and identical nature of his talents. It begins as Alison Johnson’s life begins to crumble around her. Referred to as the girl throughout most of the book’s 192 pages, she drinks too much, doesn’t have a job, and her boyfriend, Jimmy, says he cares about her but punishes her severely for her screw-ups, locking her in the trunk of his car and handcuffing her to the bed when he is unhappy. One night she flees Vegas and moves to Reno, where she begins to piece her life together, with the help of Paul Newman and the characters he played. Scene by scene Vlautin is a lovely storyteller and the people that populate Allison’s world, from an old man hiding from a family tragedy to her overweight co-worker who ends up caring deeply for her, are rendered beautifully. But I couldn’t help but linger over the book’s repetitive nature, like how I’ve seen this story told many times, even by Vlautin. And the scenes with Paul Newman come off as corny where a more versatile writer could make it interesting. Even though I didn’t really enjoy this book, it’s hard to come across a better musician turned author than Vlautin.