Justin's Reviews > Northline

Northline by Willy Vlautin
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's review
Jul 08, 2008

really liked it

I just finished Vlautin's The Motel Life and was so impressed I went out the next day and bought this one, his follow-up. Vlautin has an uncanny knack for creating characters you believe in and root for. Like his main character, Frank Flannagan, in Motel Life, Northline's Allison Johnson is too emotionally crippled to prevent terrible things from happening to her. And yet, she does possess self-awareness and does do just enough to improve her conditions that we never lose hope in her. In his spare, unaffected prose, Vlautin gives us two steps forward (new job, new city away from her abusive boyfriend) for Allison for every one step back (a biligerent drunken escapade with two disgusting barflies, various attempts to kill herself. He is masterful at depicting realistic recovery, never allowing his characters to escape their demons easily, or even completely. Northline lacks some of the great turns of phrase and hilarious dialog found in The Motel Life, but it's no less riveting, and Allison Johnson is another memorable protagonist from one of Portland, Oregon's best novelists.

I could actually see Allison and Frank Flannagan meeting at some point, in another narrative life, and maybe having an adventure or two of their own (they both live in Reno after all). I wonder if Vlautin ever thinks about doing a sort of Cormack McCarthy Cities on the Plain kind of thing and bringing two cool characters from past novels into one book starring both of them...

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