Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Motel Life

Some years ago my band opened a few shows for Richmond Fontaine, an alt-country group from Portland, Oregon. They were touring an excellent album called Post To WireI remember chatting backstage about our mutual loves, one of which was The Replacements. They were nice guys. I was interested to learn that their lead singer Willy Vlautin was moving beyond writing lyrics and into the world of literature. I was eager to see what kind of novel he would publish...

Willy Vlautin - The Motel Life (Faber & Faber, 2006). Vlautin's alcohol drenched debut novel tells the story of Frank and Jerry Lee Flannigan, two brothers from Reno, Nevada. It's a wonderfully written, atmospheric and heartfelt tale about being down on your luck - a road story brimming with warmth and compassion, in which a drunken Jerry Lee accidentally runs over and kills a child, forcing the brothers to flee. The characters are fleshed out well, you believe in them - get the sense they're real and inevitably root for them as the narrative unfolds. The plot is strong and engaging, you'll feel compelled to keep reading from the get-go. Recommended for fans of Raymond Carver in particular, who will enjoy Vlautin's gritty, matter of fact prose style, embellished throughout with cute and topical illustrations care of Nate Beaty, it's a hell of a ride. I couldn't put it down.

The Motel Life was recently adapted for the screen by the Polsky Brothers, starring Emile Hirsch as Frank Flannigan, Stephen Dorff as Jerry Lee and a supporting cast including Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson. If you're a reader you tend to find movies rarely do their source material justice but I enjoyed this film. I felt like the core elements of Vlautin's novel translated well to the screen and the cast portrayed the characters believably. Certain scenes aren't as powerfully depicted in the movie, such as one of the highlights of the novel where Frank rescues a neglected dog from its owner, but for the most part it's solid, entertaining, well acted and nicely shot. Definitely worth a watch.

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