Don't Skip Out On Me, Willy Vlautin, Harper Perennial, 2018, 269 pp
This is such a sad story but it is so good. I might never have discovered Willy Vlautin but his latest novel was the February selection of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club, to which I have a subscription. Don't Skip Out On Me came in the mail.
Then Brad Listi had Willy on his Other People podcast and I got a crush on the guy just listening to him talk. He is a down-to-earth blue collar family man who writes novels, writes songs, and plays in a band.
Horace Hopper is a half-blood Paiute Native American. His mother dropped him off at his racist, Paiute-hating grandmother's when he was just a little kid and never came back for him. As a teen, he became a ranch hand for an old Nevada sheep raising couple, who made sure he finished high school and treated him like a son.
Enough damage had been done though so Horace never felt he was good enough to deserve the love and care he got from Mr and Mrs Reese. He thought he needed to be somebody first. At 21 he takes off to become a boxer. Hating the Paiute part of himself he endeavors to pass as Mexican.
Once Horace goes out on his own the story gets more sad than ever. He knows how to work hard and he gets a job and a trainer. His worst trouble is loneliness but he also gets taken advantage of by his trainer. He is good at taking abuse but the beatings he takes as a boxer on the way up are gruesome. Personally, I hate boxing.
Willy Vlautin writes in a spare, stripped-down style. I never did figure out how he made me feel so much emotion about every single character. I totally loved Horace and Mr and Mrs Reese. I think I love the book because of its perfect balance of love and sorrow.
Why should anyone read this super sad story? Well, anyone who does not like such stories should NOT read Don't Skip Out On Me. Anyone else will be amazed by how much it gets to you.
Here is what Willy has to say on the question, from an interview:
"Sometimes reading about loneliness can make you feel less lonely. And perhaps you could try to be good like Horace and learn to do the right thing. I take inspiration from him and his patience. Maybe after you read the book, you'll feel a little bit less alone."
(Don't Skip Out On Me is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)