Books Magazine

Book Review: Northline

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

Book Review: NorthlineTitle: Northline
Author: Willy Vlautin
Series: N/A
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publish Date: 4/28/08
Genre: Adult Literary
Pages: 224
Source: Borrowed from Library
Buy the Book: Northline 

SUMMARY: Fleeing Las Vegas and her abusive boyfriend, Allison Johnson moves to Reno, intent on making a new life for herself. Haunted by the mistakes of her past, and lacking any self-belief, her only comfort seems to come from the imaginary conversations she has with Paul Newman, and the characters he played. But as life crawls on and she finds work, small acts of kindness start to reveal themselves to her, and slowly the chance of a new life begins to emerge. Full of memorable characters and imbued with a beautiful sense of yearning, Northline is an extraordinary portrait of contemporary America from a writer and musician whose work has been lauded as “mournful, understated, and proudly steeped in menthol smoke and bourbon” (New York Times Book Review). (via Amazon)

BRIAN’S REVIEW: I learned about Willy Vlautin in one of those magical ways, overhearing praise about his books at a local indie bookstore. On a whim I purchased his debut novel The Motel Life–it was fairly short and was mostly set in Reno, plus was just made into a film that is waiting for release–and ended up reading it in just two sittings. Vlautin’s writing is very simple but draws you in immediately and doesn’t let you go. His prose are sparse but perfectly chosen, and he manages in less than two hundred pages to give as much insight into his characters as another author may do with a book twice as long. I didn’t love The Motel Life–I found the first half more gripping than the second–but enjoyed it enough to keep a look-out for more of his work.

A few weeks ago, when I learned that Gore Vidal had died, I went to the fiction section at the library and looked under V. I was immediately intrigued by another Willy Vlautin novel, Northline. Not only does this novel also take place in Reno, with an intriguing concept that transports a troubled woman from Vegas to the Biggest Little City in the World. But the novel even includes a soundtrack CD of music Vlautin wrote and composed to accompany his novel! How cool is that? I finally couldn’t resist and borrowed the book in the hopes that it would be as good as his debut book. You know what? I found Northline even better.

The novel tells of a woman named Allison who takes off from Vegas to escape from her awful boyfriend, and she winds up in Reno with little money and even less hope. But she slowly starts to bounce back, with help from a new, older, wiser male, as well as, get this, imaginary conversations with Paul Newman. The book is written in scarce prose like the last book, and includes a lot of choppy chapters, too, but I found Allison a much more interesting character in this than the two brothers in The Motel Life, and I loved taking the journey with her. The ending is also much more hopeful than the ending of The Motel Life. I really love Vlautin’s style and look forward to reading his third novel, Lean on Pete, which takes place in his current town of Portland, Oregon (my new favorite city).

But what makes Northline even more special to me is the innovative use of music on the soundtrack to accompany his story and characters. I downloaded the songs from the CD, which is tucked at the back of the book, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m astonished to find myself listening to some of his tunes every single day, while I surf the web, and write my own fiction. Best of all? When I listen to his music, I’m reminded of scenes and characters from his novel. I wish other novelists were also talented musicians and could write music for their books, too. It’s something I’ve never really seen before, and I really love it! The third track, Jimmy Bodie, especially, is amazing. I adored this book, and I’ll adore the soundtrack for many more months to come.

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