The Free: A Novel

The Free: A Novel

3.3 4
by Willy Vlautin

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Award-winning author of The Motel Life, Northline and Lean on Pete, Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters who are looking for a way out of their financial, familial, and existential crises in The Free.

While serving


Award-winning author of The Motel Life, Northline and Lean on Pete, Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters who are looking for a way out of their financial, familial, and existential crises in The Free.

While serving in Iraq, veteran Leroy Kervin suffered a traumatic brain injury. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, and unable to form new memories, he eventually attempts suicide. Lying in a coma, he retreats deep inside the memories locked in his mind. Freddie McCall works two jobs and 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 is a nurse at the local hospital. Though she attends to others' needs with practical yet firm kindness, including her mentally ill elderly father, she remains emotionally removed. But a new patient, a young runaway, touches something deep and unexpected inside her.

The lives of these characters intersect as they look for meaning in desperate times. Heartbreaking and hopeful, The Free is a testament to the resiliency of the human heart. The Free also includes a P.S. Section (additional material in the back of the book) with interviews, insights, and more about the author. Vlautin is the founder of the alternative country band Richmond Fontaine and his debut novel, The Motel Life, has been made into a film starring Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, and Kris Kristofferson.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marisa Silver
…literary realism [is] a tricky practice. Some novels are so wedded to a blunt rendition of reality that they seem, paradoxically, less real than life, which after all is studded with moments of poetry and metaphoric resonance. The challenge for the writer of social realism is to enlist the plastic qualities of fiction to produce something lifelike, in which artifice creates the shimmer of recognition. In his fourth novel, The Free, Willy Vlautin demonstrates an impressive ability to navigate this challenge…Vlautin's unadorned narrative is affecting; these unassuming characters bore into us in surprising ways.
Publishers Weekly
This strong fourth novel from Portland singer/songwriter and author Vlautin (The Motel Life) follows three protagonists who find the strength to make the best of difficult situations. Leroy Kervin, an Iraq War veteran gravely wounded in a roadside-bomb explosion seven years ago, is an inpatient at a male group home in Washington State, where his longtime girlfriend, Jeanette, and mother, Darla, sometimes come to visit. Severely depressed, he attempts suicide by jumping out of an upper-story window, which leaves him bedridden. Freddie McCall, a night orderly at the home, works a second job at a paint store to pay off the debts incurred by medical treatment for his young, physically handicapped daughter, Virginia, who lives with his ex in Las Vegas. Pauline Hawkins, a hospital nurse now caring for Leroy, lives alone with her pet rabbit and keeps an eye on her dysfunctional father. As Leroy succumbs even more to his depression, he has a series of increasingly bizarre, violent dreams involving him and Jeanette being pursued by a relentless vigilante militia calling itself “the Free.” Pauline tries to save a 16-year-old patient who’s become addicted to heroin, while Freddie learns he may have a chance to be reunited with his family. Despite the grim trajectory of Leroy’s story, Pauline and Freddie’s innate decency adds a refreshingly positive note to Vlautin’s character-driven novel. Agent: Anna Stein O’Sullivan, Aitken Alexander Associates, (Feb.)
Ursula K. Le Guin
“Willy Vlautin is one of the bravest novelists writing.... An unsentimental Steinbeck, a heartbroken Haruf, Willy Vlautin tells us who really lives now in our America, our city in ruins.”
Jonathan Evison
“Courageous, powerful, and mercifully refreshing, The Free is nothing less than an affirmation, that rare novel about lost souls which dares to be hopeful in the face of despair. Vlautin’s hard knock characters will break your heart with their humanity and grace.”
Cheryl Strayed
“Willy Vlautin writes novels about people all alone in the wind. His prose is direct and complex in its simplicity, and his stories are sturdy and bighearted and full of lives so shattered they shimmer.”
Patrick deWitt
“The Free is a graceful portrayal of an underrepresented side of American life. Willy Vlautin never overreaches, or takes the easy road, and his words have the heft of permanence.”
Ann Patchett
“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.”
George Pelecanos
“The Free is another outstanding book from one of America’s most underappreciated artists.”
Ivy Pochoda
“Willy Vlautin’s magnificent novel The Free is as raw as it is beautiful, as brutal as it is honest. But despite the difficult truths of his intertwined tales, Vlautin’s characters will lift you up with their quiet compassion and profound dignity.”
Sarah Hall
“Brilliant and beautiful...what a gorgeous book. There are so few writers out there with such ambitious humility.”
Craig Johnson
“Few contemporary western writers tell the truth with the unerring eye of Willy Vlautin, a literary realist whose emotionally charged characters achieve that rarest of goals in fiction-to tell a great story, and The Free is Vlautin at his best.”
Kirkus Reviews
Vlautin's fourth novel (Lean on Pete, 2010, etc.), about damaged people caring for each other across a spectrum of society. Vlautin creates a community of survivors through a handful of well-wrought characters, each linked to the others through the attempted suicide by Leroy Kervin, a disabled Iraq war veteran who seizes a moment of clarity to escape his irreparable life. Freddie is a night caretaker at the group home where Leroy lives with his fear while fighting desperation at not being able to support his family. At the hospital, Pauline nurses him and another new patient, Jo, a runaway from a harsh world beyond her comprehension. The broken, the poor and the desperate fill this book--with dignity. Each one cares for another with grace and humility. Set in motion by Leroy's deliberate plunge down the stairs onto a wooden stake, the book examines the characters' individual humanness, peculiarly American in spirit. This is a story of our times--about the lack of work, the cost of health insurance, the demonizing of war and the damage to life in the working class. At first odd and magical, the narrative becomes more violent and hate-filled. "The Free" of the novel's title appear in a Cormac McCarthy–like vision of a demonic wasteland. Vlautin writes cleanly, beautifully about the people who hang on despite odds. This is a fine novel, grim but bounded by courage and kindliness.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(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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The Free 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely novel that paints vivid pictures with admirably spare language. You wind up really caring about the characters. Most highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story was much longer than it needed to be and extremely repetitive. About 2/3 into it, I skimmed through to the end.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
The Free by Willy Vlautin is a fic­tional book tack­ling issues fac­ing the mod­ern world. Mr Vlautin is not only a nov­el­ist, but a song­writer as well which comes through in the narrative. Leroy Kervin is a wounded Iraqi War vet­eran whose brain has been dam­aged in an explo­sion . One day he wakes and dis­cov­ers the fog has been lifted and he is “free”. How­ever, for Leroy death is a sen­si­ble option. While lay­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed after his sui­cide attempt Leroy, the sci-fi fan, makes up his own story which cen­ters on him and his girl­friend being hunted down by a group called “The Free” who believe they are unpatriotic. The man who finds Leroy at the group home after his sui­cide attempt is Fred­die McCall, an hon­est man, a car­ing man who works two jobs to be “free” of debt, pay for his daughter’s med­ical bills and can­not make ends meet even though he used to own his home outright. Leroy’s nurse, Pauline Hawkins is a nurse who cares for oth­ers, but is emo­tion­ally scarred. Pauline meets a run­away teenager named Jo who is hang­ing out with drug attics and will end up dead unless Pauline intervenes. The Free by Willy Vlautin is dif­fi­cult to describe, part fic­tion part science-fiction, the book fol­lows three pro­tag­o­nists through­out a very dif­fi­cult time in their lives. The pro­tag­o­nists are trapped in bad sit­u­a­tions through no fault of their own, they’ve been bat­tered by life, the econ­omy and circumstances. The book talks about the pro­tag­o­nists’ sit­u­a­tion, moral­ity and hopes for a bet­ter life even though the odds are tremen­dously stacked against them. The nar­ra­tive is hon­est, open and very real­is­tic. The three pro­tag­o­nists rep­re­sent what most peo­ple in Amer­ica go through today. Free­dom no longer means free­dom from tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ments, but free­dom from debt and every­day strug­gles against Amer­i­can oli­garchs whether they are banks or insur­ance companies. This book is dark and grim with very lit­tle good hap­pen­ing in it, but it is very engag­ing. The char­ac­ter dri­ven plot makes you care about the three hon­est folks who hap­pen to find them­selves in sit­u­a­tions which they can­not escape.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago