Friday, 1 April 2011

33/111 – Northline by Willy Vlautin

This is a book that I bought last year while I was working at Waterstone’s, but I bought it from somewhere else. Only £2! Brilliant. The author is a musician, and it also came with a CD, but since I’m not a music person, I’m not going to go out of my way to listen to it.

I simultaneously loved and hated this book. Which is good, because at least it made me feel something. There were a few bits I disliked, but on the whole I thought it was very good, and I would definitely read more of his stuff.

Allison is a 22-year-old waitress from Vegas with an abusive boyfriend. She’s a little weak-willed and anxious all the time. She’s also quite clearly very depressed, drinks too much and has terribly low self-esteem, partly from the treatment from her boyfriend, and partly from her life prior to that moment. Some of the dick-ish things her boyfriend does: handcuffs her to a bed all day as revenge for getting drunk; enlists her help in burning down the house of some Mexicans; let's some dude tattoo a swastika while she's passed out. Pretty horrible.

One day, Allison finds herself pregnant, and terrified for her future, finally gets the guts to do something. She runs away to Reno where she gives the baby up for adoption and begins work elsewhere as a waitress. Allison is a girl who is totally in limbo. She has no self-esteem, no vision for her future, no friends, thinks about suicide all the time etc etc. She’s a really sad figure, and I wanted to give her a hug and a pep talk. At the same time, I just want to slap her and tell her to get herself together.

Vlautin evokes a pretty realistic and well-portrayed feeling of a young woman lost and going-nowhere in America. However there were a few moments that I thought were totally unnecessary. There are a couple of scenes in the book where Allison ends up getting assaulted/raped while she’s drunk. In one instance, two men take advantage of her when they meet her in a bar, and in another, she is assaulted out of revenge. These scenes did absolutely nothing for me and I didn’t understand why the author bothered to include them. It’s not that they were especially graphic or disturbing, they were just superfluous. Allison is already a sad and pitiable figure. The addition of these sex-ploitation scenes was too sensationalist, and almost ruined the entire reading experience for me.

I’m glad I continued, and decided to put them out of my mind. Ultimately, the writer is able to successfully swing her to my sympathetic side. His portrayal of mental anguish in this stifling dead-end world of Allison’s is realistic enough to be uncomfortable at times, but really well done. Very sweet and hopeful at the end, too.

I almost forgot! This novel also made me laugh. One of Allison’s character quirks is that she loves Paul Newman movies. So much so, that at her most desperate, she imagines Paul Newman is talking to her, and providing her the kind of comfort that a father figure would. These scenes in the book were sweet and funny, and kind of reminded me of the main relationship in Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief.

Next time: I’ve had enough of reading about sad people and depression for the time being, so I’m going to dive into some good old fashioned Science Fiction and read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

No comments:

Post a Comment