The Motel Life

( 11 )


With "echoes of Of Mice and Men"(The Bookseller, UK), The Motel Life explores the frustrations and failed dreams of two Nevada brothers—on the run after a hit-and-run accident—who, forgotten by society, and short on luck and hope, desperately cling to the edge of modern life.

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The Motel Life

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With "echoes of Of Mice and Men"(The Bookseller, UK), The Motel Life explores the frustrations and failed dreams of two Nevada brothers—on the run after a hit-and-run accident—who, forgotten by society, and short on luck and hope, desperately cling to the edge of modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Zwickel
“I’m floored…This book feel so damn real, so powerful, so much like life, even if it’s not yours.”
Associated Press Staff
“Both heartbreaking and inspirational…written…with a simple hypnotic tone that seems as if it was grown in the Reno heat.”
New York Times Book Review
“Slighter than Carver, less puerile than Bukowski, Vlautin…manages to lay claim to the same blearyeyed territory, and…to make it new.”
“If there’s any justice, anywhere, The Motel Life will be widely read and widely admired.”
Associated Press ASAP
“Both heartbreaking and inspirational…written…with a simple hypnotic tone that seems as if it was grown in the Reno heat.”
San Francisco Weekly
“The furthest Vlautin’s men can move is in circles, shackled to their dysfunctions and their meager paychecks…”
Salt Lake City Tribune
“A natural for the bigscreen and in fact Babel and 21 Grams writer Guillermo Arriaga has bought the film rights…”
John Wray
It’s a cliché to compare a novel to a story overheard in a bar, but The Motel Life insists on the comparison. Willy Vlautin is the singer and songwriter for Richmond Fontaine, a band based in Portland, Ore., and the music he makes is very much like his writing: mournful, understated and proudly steeped in menthol smoke and bourbon. Slighter than Carver, less puerile than Bukowski, Vlautin nevertheless manages to lay claim to the same bleary-eyed territory, and surprisingly — perhaps even unintentionally — to make it new.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In a gritty debut, Vlautin explores a few weeks in the broken lives of two working-class brothers, Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan, who abruptly ditch their Reno motel after Jerry Lee drunkenly kills a boy on a bicycle in a hit-and-run. The two are case studies in hard luck: their mother died when they were 14 and 16, respectively; their father is an ex-con deadbeat; neither finished high school. Frank has had just one girlfriend, motel neighbor Annie, whose mother is an abusive prostitute. An innocent simpleton, Jerry Lee is left feeling suicidal after the accident, despite his younger brother's efforts (à la Of Mice and Men's Lenny and George) to console him: "It was real quiet, the way he cried," says Frank, "like he was whimpering." On returning to Reno, an eventual reckoning awaits them. Vlautin's coiled, poetically matter-of-fact prose calls to mind S.E. Hinton—a writer well-acquainted with male misfit protagonists seeking redemption, no matter how destructive. Despite the bleak story and its inevitably tragic ending, Vlautin, who plays in the alt-country band Richmond Fontaine, transmits a quiet sense of resilience and hopefulness. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
In the debut novel from Vlautin, member of the country-rock band Richmond Fontaine, misfit brothers, short on luck and long on love, go on the lam in the aftershock of horror. A bike-riding kid is killed in Reno by a hit-and-run drunk. At the wheel is Jerry Lee Flannigan, his mom dead and his dad useless, himself a tragic case who, as a teen hopping a freight to San Francisco, fell under the wheels and lost his leg. Crazed with guilt over the dead boy, he ditches the corpse and splits for Montana in a '74 Dodge Fury, his brother Frank riding shotgun, clutching Jim Beam and Pepto Bismol. A Willie Nelson tape as their soundtrack, the pair embark on an alcoholic odyssey as Frank becomes a slacker Scheherazade spinning tall tales to keep them sane. It's a tough gig-manufacturing whoppers about fleeing blood-drinking, morphine-addled pirates and creating a fantasy future "just working the cattle and growing the alfalfa"-but Jerry Lee thirsts for diversion. Drunk on remorse, he has botched a gunshot suicide bid and lies bored in the hospital, fearing the law and grieving the ghost of his victim. Waiting out the convalescence, Frank frees a sweet mongrel from a backyard chain, and dog in tow, hits blue-denim bars like the Elbow Room, where he shares beer and sympathy with a brokedown posse of comradely hard cases. He tries hooking up with his old girlfriend, a tender-souled waif who'd torn up his heart by turning hooker at her mom's instigation. But mainly, he nurses bottles and his brother, awaiting hope. A simple story, well told.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061171116
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/24/2007
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 968,207
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Willy Vlautin is the author of The Motel Life, Northline, and Lean on Pete, and the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.

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First Chapter

The Motel Life
A Novel

Chapter One

The night it happened I was drunk, almost passed out, and I swear to God a bird came flying through my motel room window. It was maybe five degrees out and the bird, some sorta duck, was suddenly on my floor surrounded in glass. The window must have killed it. It would have scared me to death if I hadn't been so drunk. All I could do was get up, turn on the light, and throw it back out the window. It fell three stories and landed on the sidewalk below. I turned my electric blanket up to ten, got back in bed, and fell asleep.

A few hours later I woke again to my brother standing over me, crying uncontrollably. He had a key to my room. I could barely see straight and I knew then I was going to be sick. It was snowing out and the wind would flurry snow through the broken window and into my room. The streets were empty, frozen with ice.

He stood at the foot of the bed dressed in underwear, a black coat, and a pair of old work shoes. You could see the straps where the prosthetic foot connected to the remaining part of his calf. The thing is, my brother would never even wear shorts. He was too nervous about it, how it happened, the way he looked with a fake shin, with a fake calf and foot. He thought of himself as a real failure with only one leg. A cripple. His skin was blue. He had half-frozen spit on his chin and snot leaking from his nose.

'Frank,' he muttered, 'Frank, my life, I've ruined it.'

'What?' I said and tried to wake.

'Something happened.'


'I'm freezing my ass off. You break the window?'

'No, a duck smashed into it.'

'You kidding?'

'I wouldn't joke about something like that.'

'Where's the duck then?'

'I threw it back out the window.'

'Why would you do that?' 'It gave me the creeps.'

'I don't even want to tell you, Frank. I don't even want to say it. I don't even want to say what happened.'

'You drunk?'


'Where are your clothes?'

'They're gone.'

I took the top blanket off my bed and gave it to him. He wrapped it around himself then plugged in the box heater and looked outside. He stuck his head out the broken window and looked down.

'I don't see a duck.'

'Someone probably stole it.'

He began crying again.

'What?' I said.

'You know Polly Flynn, right?'

'Sure.' I leaned over and grabbed a shirt on the floor and threw up into it.

'Jesus, you okay?'

'I don't know.'

'You want a glass of water?'

'No, I think I feel a little better now.' I lay back in bed and closed my eyes. The cold air felt good. I was sweating, but my stomach began to settle.

'I'm glad I don't puke at the sight of puke.'

'Me too,' I said and tried to smile. 'What happened?'

'Tonight she got mad at me,' he said in a voice as shaky as I've ever heard. 'I don't remember what I said, but she yelled at me so hard that I got up to get dressed but she got up first and took my pants and wouldn't give them back. She ran outside and set fire to them with lighter fluid. I had my wallet and keys in my coat, but the main thing, the real thing, is that I left. Got in my car and started driving home. I was a little drunk, but Jesus, I was okay to drive, and I was just going down Fifth Street, and some kid runs out in the middle of the road on his bike and I hit him. It's fucking four in the morning, there's snow on the ground, there's snow coming down. What's a kid doing riding his bike around at that time of night in that sorta weather? There were no other cars behind me, no one around at all to help. I wasn't even going twenty. There was no stop sign. I didn't run anything. It wasn't like that. He just came out of nowhere. I stopped as fast as I could. I got out to take a look, and the kid's there on the snow and asphalt with his head busted open and blood coming out of his mouth. Jesus, I didn't know what to do. I went back into the car where I got a blanket in the back seat, and I covered him with it. Used part of it to put over his head where the bleeding was. I think he was dead right then. I checked his breathing and pulse, but there was nothing. No one was around. Just the little light coming down off the street lights. By that thrift store, by that old RESCO warehouse. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't leave the kid there so I put him in the back seat, 'cause I was gonna bring him to the hospital. Then when I picked him up I knew for sure he was dead. Part of the inside of his head had come out. I'd never seen anything like it. It was the most horrible thing I ever saw.

'I began thinking of how I was drunk and how I'd go to jail. Jesus Christ. I put him in the back seat anyway, and I get in, and suddenly I see this taxi cab turn on his lights. He'd been in a vacant lot about a block away. Maybe he was sleeping, who knows. Maybe he saw the whole thing, but if he did he would have stopped, wouldn't he? He would have helped me? But he just drove off in the opposite direction. So I start driving to Saint Mary's, maybe ten minutes ago, but the kid's dead. Ain't much use in taking him in, is there? If I'd run a light or something, sure, but I didn't. He hit me more than I hit him. I don't know what the fuck to do. I had the right of way, I did, I swear I did.'

The Motel Life
A Novel
. Copyright © by Willy Vlautin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 14, 2011

    Excellent writing

    If you're looking for a cool, different book to read, check out Willy Vlautin's The Motel Life. I stumbled upon this book in Border's fire sale budget bin a few days after Christmas. I read and liked the first two pages, so I took a chance. Only $2.99! Well, I have to say I loved this book.

    I hate reviews that give the plot away, so I'll keep it simple. Two brothers in Reno, Nevada deal with the bad luck that life keeps throwing their way. The writing is sharp and clean, and I cared about the characters. The story pulled me right in and I just wanted to keep reading. So I did.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014



    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2013


    Pulls herself halfway through the window saw the two and scrambled down again before falling down. You hear muffled ow as she climbs to the next window.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013


    Well hea out to the first res where leaving for the beach

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2013

    Not so much.

    The other reviews must have been written by the authors friends. The is not a 4 or 5 star book. It reads like a laundry list of all the places in Reno to not go to. Two boring characters in a dirty city.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Riveting, hard to stop reading, very good

    Really good story, good plot, and very well told. After you finish, it will finally sink in so you understand what you just read.

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted March 8, 2014

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    Posted February 23, 2011

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    Posted November 10, 2013

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