Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The stark title and cover of this books sets its tone, or so it seems if we are to believe the publisher's blurb:
Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again. Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy's group home, works two jobs yet still can't make ends meet. He's lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative '' and dangerous -- proposition. Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her.
Out of all this despair and desperation Vlautin gives us a story of hope, a glorious portrayal of humanity and humaneness as ordinary people struggle to get by in a world that sometimes seems capable of only dumping more and more pain and problems on their already bent backs.  Still these characters are able to reach through their pain to various degrees to offer friendship, caring and hope.

As a reader, I was drawn into this story before I knew it, and could not put it down.  Although it is dark, depressing and overwhelmingly sad at times, I finished the book with a feeling of optimism that all was not lost.

I received a copy of this from the publisher as part of my participation in the panel for the Maine Readers Choice Award.   It is one that is on the long list, and will certainly receive a favorable consideration from me to make the short list.


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