Willy Vlautin is a top rank novelist and also one of those wonderfully successful ‘left field’ musicians that no one has ever heard of (his best known band was the Richmond Fontaines). He is also, apparently, a lovely guy. One of his novels – Lean on Pete – has been made into a big movie starring Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevingy. He cites Steinbeck, Carver, Sam Shepherd and Tom Waits as influences, and you can see all of them in there – I would probably add that it is hard to avoid a sprinkling of Cormac McCarthy when you’re dealing with taciturn loners, riding horses, in the Nevada / Arizona / Mexico borderland. He doesn’t have the Biblical fury of McCarthy, but he has a similar insight in the minds of men.
Don’t Skip Out on Me is the tale if a young farm hand, “Hector Hidalgo”, who has lived a good part of his life with the now elderly couple who adopted and raised him. He is a dedicated hard working kid who clearly loves and respects his ‘mum and dad’, the Reece’s. As he heads into his twenties, Hector feels that he can no longer dodge his dream: he has to see if he could be a champion boxer. He takes this upon himself because of his admiration for all the hard-scrabble success stories of Latin American boxers…even though he is not Latino, he is a mixed-blood kid of Native American and American-Irish parentage. He feels he can ‘pass’ as Mexican: Hidalgo is an adopted name, his real name is Hopper.
As he heads into the city to try and realise this dream, he finds himself in an underclass of drifters, casual work, and casual violence as well as the rigours of attempting to train himself up to be a boxer. There are some fantastic and fantastically sad episodes in and around the boxing ring and the nights following the fights – with their isolation and long drives home for work the next morning, all bloodied, bruised and sometime broken.
It is a terrific meditation on loneliness and dreams and the chasing of those dreams.
He is my age. I want to hate him, but really, who could.