Northline by Willy Vlautin is the kind of book that makes me wonder if I will ever truly love a book again, or if I’m destined for reading purgatory, where everything gets three stars on Goodreads: Not quite bad enough to ditch it in the toilet tank at a truck stop, but not good enough to dangle it over someone’s head, taunting “You know you want to read it!”
This one stars Allison Johnson, a high school drop out with an abusive boyfriend who dabbles in white supremacy, brands her with a swastika tattoo and leaves her chained to the bed when she’s naughty. After passing out at a Vegas desert party, and waking just long enough to see her boyfriend making out with another woman, Allison, or “the girl” as she’s usually referred to as, sets out, hitchhiking to a better life in Reno.
Oh, and she’s pregnant.
From there, the story follows Allison as she meets people, gives her baby up for adoption, lies about her past, hyperventilates, takes on two jobs, passes out in the bathtub, cuts herself and turns to conversations with Paul Newman in her head for comfort.
This is exactly the kind of cliche, mediocre plotline with a kitschy quirk that I want to watch a movie version of on the Lifetime Network the Sunday after one too many Grainbelts. It is that movie “Waitress” in the way that every story about a woman and her abusive boyfriend and an unplanned pregnancy and getting a GED are the 2007 movie that starred Felicity. Reading it, though, just happened involuntarily with no change in my blood pressure or body temperature.
I will say this, though. Willy Vlautin is a pretty interesting writer. He is really scientific and unemotional and no-frills. And I’m not just saying this because Vlautin is in a rock/americana/country band from Portland that sounds like the Gear Daddies, but this story is a lot like an epic, hard luck, Springsteen song. Maybe this whole plot would work better as a song?
All I know is that I’m giving myself a month to fall in love with a book again, or else I’m going to find a new hobby.(1)
(1) This is an empty threat.