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.
While serving in Iraq, veteran Leroy Kervin suffered a traumatic brain injury. Lying in a coma, he retreats deep inside a science fiction alter-reality. Freddie McCall works two jobs and is still buried in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative—and dangerous—proposition. Pauline Hawkins is a nurse who remains emotionally removed while she attends to others' needs. But a new patient, a young runaway, touches something deep and unexpected inside her.
“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.”
“Willy Vlautin is one of the bravest novelists writing. Murderers, cheats, sadists, showy examples of the banality of evil, are easy, but it takes real courage to write a novel about ordinary good people… (he) tells us who really lives now in our America, our city in ruins.”
Ursula K. Le Guin