Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s
choice for October 2020.


In The Free Willy Vlautin describes the daily lives and routines of very ordinary Americans and how they cope with all of life’s struggles and hardships.
          There’s Leroy, a young wartime veteran who is brain damaged from the war in Iraq. He’s now in a coma in hospital following a failed suicide attempt and we journey with him in his mind into an alternative frightening fantasy world while he is visited by his mother and former girlfriend.
          Pauline is one of the nurses in the hospital where Leroy is being cared for. She is a kind and compassionate person despite having to care for her father who has mental health issues and depression. Her mother abandoned them when she was small and this has overshadowed her life but has not stopped her from forging a life for herself.
          Freddy is one of the night time carers in the nursing home where Leroy was before his suicide attempt. It is Freddy who finds Leroy and despite having to work two jobs to pay off increasing debts and being constantly tired he makes the time to visit Leroy in hospital. Freddy’s biggest concern is that his ex-wife and daughters live in another city and there’s mounting hospital bills for the youngest one. You can feel his heartbreak at not seeing them and his struggle to keep things going.
          Vlautin’s writing pulls no punches and is to the point and yet despite its minimalism we get a full picture of the people in the book by going with them through their daily lives and chores, their work routines, even their shopping lists.
          And so who are “the Free”?  The last line in the anthem The Star Spangled Banner is “Oe’r the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
          Many of the characters in Vlautin’s books are certainly brave and show great resilience despite what life throws at them. Not all survive though, there’s no schmaltzy happy endings. But are they free?
          When Freddy gets reunited with his daughters he says that now he is free. Pauline finds a new job and direction and with this a level of self-acceptance .
          Leroy finally finds peace.
          I think Vlautin’s land of the free is a place where people have the opportunity to live their lives as best they can and with the people that they love.

Alison Claffey
Dublin Unitarian Church

I enjoyed reading The Free by Willy Vlautin. He gives voice to his three main characters, Leroy, Pauline and Freddie, all doing their best but struggling in modern day USA . He allows them to speak for themselves in what I consider a very readable and real tale. Despite their struggles with low wages, a poor health system, poverty, mental illness and prejudice the basic decency and humanity of the individuals maintains. Vlautin casts a cold eye on modern American society and the lives of its weaker citizens.
          The title reflects the famous rubric ‘the land of the free…’ aka the USA  which is turned on its head in the dystopian dreams of Leroy, the incapacitated and damaged Iraq war veteran.  In his dreams ‘The Free’ hunt down and massacre those who have ‘the mark’ which signifies the marked one's  laziness, weakness, disloyalty (won't stand for the flag), ‘freeloaders’ on welfare… ‘you are all the same...!’ we must purify the nation, make it a great nation!  Written in Portland Oregon in 2014 I wondered if Vlautin was sensing, with some foreboding, forces yet to emerge in the U.S. media headlines in recent times. A thought provoking read in these strange times. 

Marian McCaughley
Dublin Unitarian Church

I found the writing in this short novel to be spare and easy to read. It was suitable to the material, which is about the, in my opinion, dystopian world of the American poor. These people struggle to survive in the country we have been told to believe has everything we could ever want, and the result is shocking. The people are believable, and one wants the best for them. A near- tragedy hovers over one, and I was terrified it would turn out badly, as I was fond of the character!
          There are 'dream sequences' in the story, quite long and I found them to be unbelievable as dreams or hallucinations as they were too full of accurate detail. They added nothing to the story, and after the first few I skipped them, as they were turning a quite enjoyable book into a chore.
          I will probably try another book by this author, but not this year!

Madeline Stringer
Dublin Unitarian Church