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The Motel Life

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  2,297 Ratings  ·  319 Reviews

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.

Paperback, 206 pages
Published April 24th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published 2006)
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Aug 02, 2007 Teree rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I live in Reno, knew Willy in the nineties, and drive by many of the places he writes about, nearly every day. This book was instantly engaging to me. Nevada really does tend to be the lonesome place he describes. The characters never really complain about their hard times. Seems they are used to it by now. Everything that happens is endearingly communicated through a simple universal language.
Aug 26, 2012 Tfitoby rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
I hoped this would be good, I was disappointed. The art was good however.

The story of two down on their luck brothers as they deal with one of them doing something stupid.

It's a series of melancholy episodes, one brother seemingly mentally challenged, the other a nice but angry guy.

I can't really recommended this in any way. I wouldn't have finished it if it wasn't such a quick read combined with the fact I didn't have another book for my trip to and from work.
Apr 02, 2011 James rated it did not like it
The blurb notices on this book were particularly hyperbolic so i picked it up on a whim. The author was compared to steinbeck, the book was said to be a rock and roll ballad in book form and filled with compassion and courage. It was going to haunt me with its beauty in fact it was a bibliophiles dream with its line drawings. Having read it I am sure the author is a nice guy if a bit hipster pretentious, its not his fault he has an awesome pr machine but the book is merely an ok simplistic story ...more
I've been studying ideas about empathy and perspective-taking that happen when we read, and I feel a bit apologetic to be approaching this book from that scholarly in, because I know Vlautin didn't write this book for that purpose. In fact, I'd like to corner Vlautin at the horse tracks, ply him with a beer, and let him tell me who he wrote this book for; I have a feeling he would tell me he wrote it for himself. This novel is a perfect example of the reader-attitudes I try to deconstruct in a u ...more
Susan Johnson
Mar 20, 2014 Susan Johnson rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book about the so called marginal people in life. The people who fall through the cracks. The people who don't really belong anywhere. The people who never really had a chance in life. The Flannigan boys are those types of people. Their father has a severe gambling problem and shouldn't be living in Reno. After accumulating a huge debt, he leaves and their mother dies while they are still in their teens.
They don't want to go to foster care so they decided to fly under the ra
Nov 24, 2007 Carl rated it it was amazing
its as though Jesus' Son and Actual Air merged and ran over a twelve year old boy.
Jan 18, 2011 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Willie Vlautin has an optimistic view of humanity, which should be weird statement considered how filled with violence, drug and alcohol abuse, sadness, anxiety, grinding poverty, accidents, and injury his books are. But, read him and you find a very fragile but still there humanity to his portraits of the inhabitants of the third world regions of America’s New West. Vlautin is the bandleader of Richmond Fontaine a band in between the Midwest grimness of Uncle Tupelo and the high desert yearn of ...more
Dec 23, 2010 Johnny rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book that I think would be best enjoyed in one sitting. It's short and fast and all about subtle detail. Nice characterization and brisk style in the writing.

The book captures the atmosphere of Reno beautifully. Fans of Bukowski will really enjoy this book, not only for its down-and-out characters, but the overall tone that explores the thin line between hope and desperation.

While for some this may be a little thin, I found the simplicity of the story and its depth more than
May 06, 2013 Bjorn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: usa
Q: You know what happens when you play a country song backwards?
A: You get your house back, you get your girl back, and your dog comes back to life.

The two brothers Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan are losers in every sense of the word. They lost their parents when they were young, they've lost their chances at making something of themselves, they lost their house, Frank lost his girlfriend and Jerry Lee lost his leg; now they're stuck in Reno, surviving from day to day in any way they can, drinkin
Andy Weston
May 26, 2016 Andy Weston rated it it was amazing
Willy Vlautin's superb short novel can be seen as an advert for education.

Frank narrates, and tells many stories, but chiefly about his brother Jerry Lee and their months after an accident. Both dropped out of school early after the death of their mother. They both have talent though, Jerry Lee as an artist, and Frank as a storyteller.

There is subtle black humour throughout and their road trip and motel life is made more compelling by the Reno backdrop.

The characters that pass through the bro
Mar 14, 2013 Bandit rated it really liked it
I never quite understood the optimists, there is something alarming about the human equivalents of the happy face, but the f*ck ups of various varieties are much easier to figure out and they certainly make for some really good stories. This is one of them. A tale of lives of quiet desperation, two brothers trying to get by in a cruel and largely indifferent world. It's a slice of americana, very moving and affecting story about how much of a struggle day to day living can be. Set in and around ...more
Brian Foley
Dec 11, 2007 Brian Foley rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: winter drunks
This is one of the best novels I read this year, and one of the best I've read in a long time. It brought me back to the days of harder fictions from Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver, which seems to be the unanimous vote going round. Those were some of the first authors I ever fell in deep with and it was nice to go back there.
Don't mistake though, this novel was authentic. You never got the sense the author was rubbing your face in it, or winking at you. It was bleak and beautiful and one hell
Nigel Bird
May 21, 2014 Nigel Bird rated it it was amazing
‘Bad luck, it falls upon people every day. It’s one of the only certain truths. It’s always on deck, it’s always just waiting. The worst thing, the thing that scares me the most is that you never know who or when it’s going to hit. But I knew then, that morning, when I saw the kid’s frozen arms in the back of the car that bad luck had found my brother and me. And us, we took the bad luck and strapped it around our feet like concrete. We did the worst imaginable thing you could do. We ran away. W ...more
Matt North
Sep 26, 2011 Matt North rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I bought this novel upon a recommendation of a friend after listening to Vlautin's band Richmond Fontaine and whilst I have never been a big reader, this book alone has kick-started a passion I wish I'd found long ago.

The Motel Life is a beautifully, yet simply narrated tale about the ties and bonds that are formed in brotherhood, with a true and honest outlook on life. Written with a great attention to detail, the story follows two brothers on the run as we discover their bleak yet warming past
Mar 07, 2009 Joshua rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I dug Vlautin's book a lot: there's an understated way of rendering the story that isn't flat or monotonous, but true to the nature of the person telling the story. A quiet book but one with a strong and smart subtext.
Jan 17, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing
I've read The Motel Life four or five times now. It's the perfect read for a cold and rainy (we don't get snow down here) afternoon. It will make you even more depressed but sometimes that's exactly what you want.
Jun 29, 2008 Justin rated it really liked it
I've been a sort-of fan of Willy Vlautin's band, Richmond Fontaine, since moving to Portland, though I've never really paid attention to the lyrics in his alt-countryish narrative tunes. Part of the problem is Vlautin's singing voice, which is raspy and weary in that whiskey-soaked kind of way that usually appeals to me, but is also oddly bland, with little differentiation in range or tone from track to track. His music just kind of washes over me. It's pleasant enough to listen to but hardly me ...more
Mark Stevens
Aug 31, 2014 Mark Stevens rated it it was amazing
Willy Vlautin writes like he’s searching for the unvarnished, cold truth in each moment. With “Lean on Pete” and “Motel Life,” he writes about overlooked characters—life on the raw, bitter edge. As one other reviewer pointed out, his writing style is understated. He’s the dry-eyed documentarian. Looking for flashy prose? Seek elsewhere. Vlautin’s touch as a musician (he writes and sings for the band Richmond Fontaine) is evident in the rhythms and flow.

But that doesn’t mean these books lack ener
Jun 10, 2008 Patrick rated it really liked it
Willy Vlautin is a talented minimalist writer with a keen sense of dialogue and an eye for the day to day activities of the "down and out" blue collar community of the western U.S. His novel The Motel Life is a short and captivating read that is essentially depressing, but not without its "breaks in the clouds," so to speak. Indeed, there are portions of his story that bring a tear to the reader's eye, but there are also scenes of humor and even optimism. That being said, I cannot yet place him ...more
Nina Rapsodia
Nov 10, 2011 Nina Rapsodia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Todo el mundo
Recommended to Nina by: Bicheando en la biblioteca
En el pequeño pueblo de Reno en Nevada, Estados Unidos, viven dos hermanos: Jerry Lee y Frank Flannigan. Jerry Lee es un hábil dibujante, aunque vive con una autoestima muy baja, debido a su pierna mutilada y ayudándose de una prótesis. Frank es un hábil contador de historias que con sus relatos trata de hacerle una vida mejor a su hermano, al tiempo que trabaja y apuesta ocasionalmente. Este dúo vive de bar en bar, de pensión en pensión, viviendo de trabajos mediocres y juegos de azar y apuesta ...more
Jun 21, 2011 Lynn rated it liked it
Shelves: novel, read-in-2014
I bought this novel last month when Willy Vlautin came through town touring for his new book (which I also bought). A friend had told me that she liked this book, so I bought it too. I know Willy from college (we lived in the same dorm at U of O. We went out on one date!). I was happy to see that he still plays the guitar (he's part of the band Richmond Fontaine) and he played a little bit after he read from his book.
I liked this book, but DAMN! it is depressing. I like that the book portrays th
Aug 29, 2011 Alexandra rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Nevadans, young men
Recommended to Alexandra by: school
It was a quick and easy read that felt like watching a movie, with a lot of references to Reno. The author is originally from Reno, and the entire book takes place in Reno and Elko. It felt ethnographically true in the culture it presented, that of lower-income working class young men living in a motel and drinking beer. Though the characters were not highly educated, they were intelligent. I could imagine living in a motel, but probably romanticize it to make it feel like a run-by the moment, g ...more
Jan 07, 2008 Malbadeen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people that like orphaned boys
Recommended to Malbadeen by: Brian (not Brain)
*disclaimer can be seen in the first 2 paragraphs of this review

2 adolescent, semi-orphaned, boys get caught up in a hit and run and muddle their way through the aftermath.
the structure of the story was interesting, one of the brothers told elaborate, and sometimes hilarious in their ridiculousness, stories to people in times of stress to calm things. Which i'm sure if you were into it, you could over analyze it and talk about how that might speak to the
Trixie Fontaine
Sep 15, 2009 Trixie Fontaine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I couldn't help hearing most people's voices in this book sounding like Moe's voice on The Simpsons. Moe is my fave Simpson character, so maybe that partially explains my love for this beautiful, sad fucking book. The other part of the explanation is just that it's a pretty special book. I was afraid going into it that it would be unbearably depressing, but it wasn't. Depressing, yes . . . but just squeaks by as BARELY bearable. I did find myself with tears dripping down my face a few times, but ...more
Sep 09, 2010 Adam rated it really liked it
Willie Vlautin has an optimistic view of humanity, which should be weird statement considered how filled with violence, drug and alcohol abuse, sadness, anxiety, grinding poverty, accidents, and injury his books are. But, read him and you find a very fragile but still there humanity to his portraits of the inhabitants of the third world regions of America’s New West. Vlautin is the bandleader of Richmond Fontaine a band in between the Midwest grimness of Uncle Tupelo and the high desert yearn of ...more
Aug 19, 2015 Wheeler rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this novel so much, it being about set in two places I lived and know well.

But it just could not make it. Also, although I know it's just a character, I had a hard time swallowing the unabashed and unchanged view of the protagonist toward sex workers.

It's so short, even though it's supposedly 200 pages, it's almost a novella. (Spacing and type size.) Also, I don't understand why it's in British formatting, but being sold in the US.

I'd probably read another book by the author, as
Mar 06, 2014 Barbara rated it really liked it
This is one sad book, but it has a real ring of authenticity. Reading the interviews with Vlautin you realize that these are places and people he knows and has known. Many of them are invisible to us, though we may pass by them every day. I am eager to read more Vlautin, and listen to some of his music.
Alex Livingstone
Feb 24, 2008 Alex Livingstone rated it really liked it
Terrific first novel from Willy Vlautin. I have the fortune of knowing the author personally and aside from this being a great story, it is a perfect representation of the author's complex personality. Wild, free-spirited, story teller and big-hearted, sincere friend. Poor brothers. Rough life, the motel.
Oct 27, 2007 Don rated it it was amazing
I love this book. And I'm beginning to fall in love with the author's band, Richmond Fontaine. With 'The Motel Life,' Vlautin takes the reader into the lives of two down-and-out brothers, exploring their personal tragedies, and into the desperate world of living a hand-to-mouth existence in flop-house type motels. The book is a sorrowful, beautiful old country song come to life.
Corey Murray
Apr 05, 2009 Corey Murray rated it it was amazing
If I didn't judge books by their covers, I may never have uncovered this little gem. A quick read, but when I finished I wanted to start over again. I have nothing in common with the narrator or his brother, nor would I be comfortable in their world, but I found myself rooting for them, and touched at their devotion to one another.
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Reno, bitches! 1 35 Jan 26, 2008 05:18PM  
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Willy Vlautin (born 1967) is an American author and the lead singer and songwriter of Portland, Oregon band Richmond Fontaine. Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, he has released nine studio albums since the late nineties with his band while he has written four novels: The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete, and The Free.

Published in the US, several European and Asian countries, Vlautin's first book
More about Willy Vlautin...

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“When it was summer we'd go down to the Truckee River, and in the evening just after dusk we'd find a deep pool and go swimming together. We could see the city around us, all the people and traffic, the casino lights and noise, but it was like we were all right, that everything was okay, that we were the only two people that mattered, that could see how beautiful the lights of the city were.” 0 likes
“Look, here's a piece of advice. What you do is you think about the life you want, you think about it in your head. Make it a place where you want to be: a ranch, a beach house, a penthouse on the top of a skyscraper. It doesn't matter what it is, but a place that you can hide in. When things get rough, go there.” 0 likes
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