Books

'Don’t Skip Out On Me' Reads Lightly, Questions Heavily

Q

In his fifth novel, writer and musician Willy Vlautin deals with the causes and consequences of loneliness.

Don't Skip Out on Me
Willy Vlautin

HarperCollins

Feb 2018

Other

For quite a while, there has been a legend among journalists and writers who follow all things music. It concerns a young up and coming rock journalist who has been sent to interview the blues master B.B. King. As it goes, sometimes with up and coming journalists, they tend to make statements instead of asking questions.

In this case, at one moment, the 'youngster' tells BB King: "But mister King, your guitar solos sound so simple…" BB retorted: "Son, that's why they are so hard to play."

It's the same situation a reader is faced when taking on Willy Vlautin's fifth novel, Don't Skip Out on Me. On its surface, his writing seems all too simple -- he writes clean and uncomplicated sentences that create clear images. Sometimes he presents absolutely detailed images, even about some day-to-day things, like what his characters are having for dinner and what kind of music they are listening to.

As with BB King's guitar solos, however, it's the simple things that are truly complicated. Rather life itself. Like having trust in yourself and what lies within, or what it truly means to be lonely. Light writing, heavy questions. Vlautin concentrates on presenting the images as if in hope that they will present answers. Vlautin sets his story of Horace Hopper, a half-Paiute, half-Irish adopted ranch hand who tries to transform himself into a Mexican boxer in a big city. As he travels across vast regions of Arizona and Nevada, eventually landing in Los Angeles, he finds himself feeling introspective.

Throughout his work, whether as a novelist or as a musician, songwriter and lyricist for two bands - Richmond Fontaine and The Delines -- Vlautin has paid detailed attention to his characters, usually those from the side of life many people would rather not look at.

With Vlautin's writing there is often a prevailing impression that his style was inspired by greats like Raymond Carver and Dennis Johnson. But Vlautin is not an imitator of either, just a writer who likes to present clear, often down to earth images. What can be taken as his writing characteristic though is this prevailing sense of optimism and persistent hope, even if things seem hopeless. In Don't Give Up on Me, things keep getting worse, not only for Horace Hopper, but for his adopting parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reese. Still, hope persists.

It's understandable that readers may think that Hopper is the key character around whom the story evolves, but it's is eventually revealed that Vlautin has developed a parallel key character; that of Mr. Rees. Through Hopper, Vlautin develops elements like childhood trauma, bigotry, lack of confidence and particularly loneliness. Through Mr. Reese, he develops elements like, hope, trust, strong beliefs, and perseverance in the face of adversity.

All these themes are something that Vlautin has already been exploring, both through his music and writing. With "Don't Skip Out on Me," it seems that he has reached some kind of pinnacle of this exploration, since he has prepared a special Richmond Fontaine instrumental soundtrack that is also annotated in the book. As the story winds to its conclusion, one of the questions the readers have to resolve themselves is, who is skipping out on whom? Is it another person, or is it just one's self? Simple question. Hard to play out.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.