Let me just start by saying that I have mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I don't feel that like is the right wLet me just start by saying that I have mixed feelings about this book. I wanted to like it more than I did, but I don't feel that like is the right word for my response to "The Free." I think the best way of putting it is that I appreciate it.
"The Free" by Willy Vlautin is, to me, characterized by an undercurrent of discontent and resignation. Vlautin's characters are mostly unhappy with their lives -- stuck, really, in lives that are rather grim, ordinary and mundane, distinguished only by their varying hardships.
There are three main characters, who are all connected, with one being the fulcrum point between the two others.
Leroy is a man who has come back to America from a deployment in Iraq, having been injured severely. He suffers from brain trauma and other physical impairments that have resulted in a long struggle to recover movement and speech. His recovery has limited potential. He will never be the same man who left for war, and he finally ended up in a group home for disabled men.
Freddie works in the group home where Leroy lives. He holds two jobs, the other being the sole remaining employee at a paint store whose owner is the son of the man who began the business. The son is letting the business fail, slowly but surely, and Freddie is barely making ends meet with the money he gets from both the paint store and the group home. He is always running late and barely functioning from lack of sleep.
When Leroy wakes up one day with an unaccustomed lucidity, he becomes terrified that it is temporary and that he will sink back into mental fog. After experiencing that clarity, he cannot bear to lose it again, and so, with his limited mobility, he painstakingly manages to set up an elaborate method of self-execution. Having failed to end his life, he ends up in the hospital, where is where Pauline, the third main character, works as a nurse.
Leroy has lost any will to recover or participate in life after his unsuccessful suicide. He can't bear the pain, the misery, and the knowledge of being even more burdensome on his mother and the other people who care about him.
He creates a fantasy world for himself, and retreats into it entirely. His imaginary life involves meeting and falling in love with his real-life girlfriend, and the two of them continue on in a somewhat dystopian run for their lives. Even in his fantasy, he cannot escape fear and violence.
Freddie somehow manages to find time in his day to visit Leroy, out of a sense of guilt or obligation. He meets Pauline, Leroy's nurse, but the two don't interact much. They are only connected by being Leroy's caretakers.
Pauline's focus is on her patients, particularly one whom she wants to save from her current way of life. A girl named Jo comes to the hospital with abscesses in her legs from needle injections. She is a homeless runaway, and a reluctant junkie, living with a group of young men who encourage her to use drugs and then take advantage of her. Having gathered this much, Pauline makes it her personal mission to change Jo's life.
Pauline has other obligations, however, including her mentally ill father. He has erratic shifts in mood, and refuses to take care of himself. She keeps him fed and tries to keep his home clean and livable, but he opposes her attempts and berates her, then begs her to forgive him. Each of the three main characters seems to see his or her life as unchangeable. Leroy is just trying to escape his, but Freddie and Pauline are worn out and stretched too thin with trying to improve the lives of others, neglecting their own health and happiness. All they ever seem to do is sacrifice and self-deny. All three refuse to acknowledge and deal with their own situations, instead just going through the motions, living one day to the next, finding very little enjoyment or fulfillment.
This might seem as though it could not end well, and I myself got a little discouraged with the direction in which things were going.
There is, however, redemption in the cards for these folks.
Though the title "The Free" is connected with a sort of Fascist regime in Leroy's inner world, I believe it also refers to each of the characters as we near the ends of their stories.
They each finally realize that doing the same thing every day, year after year in some cases, never changing, is not working. Each of them makes a choice, a choice to seek and pursue their own happiness. In making these choices, they each become free.
While not quite heartwarming or cheerful, "The Free" is certainly thought-provoking and well-written. Vlautin gives us a clear look at some very real, very present, difficult-to-look-at issues within American's middle class, and yet we come away from it with a sense of hope.
It wasn't perfect, but it had my full attention the whole way through. It was exciting, funny, frightening, and empowering. It had flaws, but they werIt wasn't perfect, but it had my full attention the whole way through. It was exciting, funny, frightening, and empowering. It had flaws, but they were much less important than the experience and overall takeaway of the book. Don't be put off by it being a YA novel. Really, don't. Read it anyway, and take it seriously. That's my prescription....more
Closer to 3.5 stars, but I didn't "really like it," as 4 stars denotes on Goodreads. The plot was interesting, and I learned a lot, but I didn't realiCloser to 3.5 stars, but I didn't "really like it," as 4 stars denotes on Goodreads. The plot was interesting, and I learned a lot, but I didn't realize the book was going to be so heavily centered around a court case. I was hoping for more midwifery and less lawyering, but I still enjoyed it....more
What wonderful, lovely, thoroughly enjoyable book! This story is a rare and much-needed departure from the mediocrity of most contemporary fiction. ThWhat wonderful, lovely, thoroughly enjoyable book! This story is a rare and much-needed departure from the mediocrity of most contemporary fiction. The author's tongue-in-cheek social commentary smacks of a modern Jane Austen, and her well-intentioned but endearingly flawed characters are as comfortable and familiar as those of Alexander McCall Smith.
Simonson gives us a clear-eyed, unapologetic look at how people truly think and interact (in the context of the full spectrum of life experiences), which makes the characters so real and relatable. This is not just a love story, but a story about pursuing happiness despite the deterrent of rigid social rules, fighting for love at all costs, overcoming bigotry, learning who your friends are, discovering your own self, and learning to love your family as they are. This is a tall order for any story, but it was managed with skill and subtlety.
On top of all this warmth-inducing content, the book was excellently written in terms of technique and style.
These are not qualities you often find in one novel. That makes Major Pettigrew's Last Stand essential reading, in my opinion, and well deserving of a place on anyone's bookshelf. I plan on buying my own copy after reluctantly returning this one to the library, so that I can read it as many times as I want - and maybe even lend it out to a few trustworthy friends....more
The author was somewhat biased in his beliefs about various political issues of historical Scotland, it seemed, and a little disrespectful at times. IThe author was somewhat biased in his beliefs about various political issues of historical Scotland, it seemed, and a little disrespectful at times. I found this odd, since the book was overall a tribute to the Scots... finding the occasional slight against their culture or beliefs was surprising and disappointing.
The book was still informative and quite interesting, but probably only because the subject matter is inherently interesting... the Scots have a dramatic past. The author did manage to draw out certain issues that really didn't need such attention, which made it drag on a bit....more
This book was oddly inconsistent - there were passages that I found frankly boring, and I would be reluctant to pick it back up again. Then there wereThis book was oddly inconsistent - there were passages that I found frankly boring, and I would be reluctant to pick it back up again. Then there were times when the plot moved along at a very nice pace, with interesting situations and events. Some of the characters were unfathomable, some were reasonably well explained.
It wasn't a great book, but it wasn't bad. I was surprised several times throughout by relationships and interactions between the characters, but the author did not really let the reader get used to thinking a certain way about a character, because then something else would be revealed. It almost seemed forced, but not offensively so.
I did quite like the end of the book. I thought the story lines were wrapped up rather nicely, and that everyone acted in a way that made sense according to their past actions. All in all, it was mostly enjoyable and only sometimes mediocre....more
I certainly learned more about Islam from reading this book, but not because the author was being very helpful in that regard. It seemed like the assuI certainly learned more about Islam from reading this book, but not because the author was being very helpful in that regard. It seemed like the assumption was that if you were reading it, you were already familiar with the terms and the practices. There were many references that I did not understand, but sometimes there was enough context that I was able to get a decent grasp of the concept (though the context was more incidental than intentionally used by the author for clarity's sake). It's difficult to enjoy a book when I don't feel sympathetic to the main character. I never liked her, nor really cared what happened to her. The other characters in the story never stuck around long enough or had enough interaction with the main character for the reader to be able to get to know them....more
i'm re-reading this. i'm not enjoying it any more than i did in high school. this book is about a cruel, cowardly man in a culture that accepts his wii'm re-reading this. i'm not enjoying it any more than i did in high school. this book is about a cruel, cowardly man in a culture that accepts his wife-beating tendencies because of its utter lack of respect for women. (so far, only one of the main character's wives has actually been referred to by name, the others are just "okonkwo's first wife" or "nwoye's mother" or what have you. i don't get the feeling that the author is condemning this man or his village's treatment of women, even though the book is supposed to be 'ironic.') it's also a culture that reveres war and bloodshed as heroic, and kills innocent young boys to settle scores between rival villages. i can agree that ancient tribal cultures crumbled because of the interference of christian missionaries and other meddling western influences, and that it is very unfortunate that people lose their heritages as a result of this. it is difficult, however, for me to get terribly worked up about the dissolution of a culture this bloodthirsty and narrow-minded, even though the culture that replaced it was most likely no better....more