The Motel Life

Willy Vlautin

First Sentence: The night it happened I was drunk, almost passed out, and I swear to God a bird came flying through my motel room window.

I love Willy Vlautin books. They feel like old friends (even though I’ve only ever read any of them once). They all have a certain ease about them that is sparse and compelling, with the characters and the language pitch perfect throughout. This particular one is concerned with Frank Flannigan and his brother Jerry Lee. The night Frank is talking about in the first sentence is the night Jerry Lee accidentally runs down a boy (Wes Denny) and kills him. Jerry Lee has been drinking and he does not stay around for long and so begins the journey of two brother on the run. These two boys have very little but each other. Frank is always telling stories to escape, something encouraged by second-hand car dealer, and erstwhile boss, Earl Hurley:

Hope is the key. You can make shit up, there’s no law against that. Make up some place you and your brother can go if you want. It might not work but it might. Ain’t too hard to try.

While Jerry Lee has his drawing, something he does not see the real value of, merely seeing it as a substitute for real relationships:

Hell, at least you’ve been in love, you know? And no matter what you say, that girl really did like you. All she ever did was talk about you. Marge is the only one for me, I think, and she’s just a picture I draw.

The girl Jerry Lee is referring to is Annie James, Frank’s ex-girlfriend who provides some of the hope in a novel brimful with sorrow. This is a beautiful tale and it takes the reader on an extremely poignant journey through a bleak American winter, a journey fraught with misfortune at every turn. Vlautin is fast becoming one of my favourite writers and this is equally as good as his other books. Great stuff.

* * * *

Last Sentence: Because hope, it’s better than having nothing at all.

Last Sentence explained. Jerry Lee cannot deal with the guilt he feels after he kills the boy and he attempts suicide but chickens out at the last minute and shoots himself in his already crippled leg. As a result of this he becomes seriously ill and when himself and Frank run away from the hospital things only get worse and worse until eventually he has to return to a hospital where he dies. At this point, Frank is in the process of getting back together with Annie James and at the very end of the book, just after Jerry Lee dies, Frank is waiting outside the hardware store where she works, hoping to see her. Their relationship really is the one beacon of hope throughout the entire book and you can’t help but wish for them to be together and to be happy. It is clear that they really do love each other, and some of my favourite parts are when they get back together:

She took off her underwear and took off mine and then laid on top of me. In the darkness we were like that, her tears were mixing with our spit as we kissed and I held on to her as hard as I could. I held on to her like, if I let go, she and me, we’d disappear.

As long as they have each other there’s still a smidgen of hope.


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