Back in the halcyon days of alt.country, almost ten years ago now, Portland, Ore.’s Richmond Fontaine
broke into the scene. They seemed too much like an Uncle Tupelo clone and I dismissed them after a SXSW show that was less than impressive. The resulting years have been kind to the quartet, their last couple of discs garnering them critical acclaim and a growing fan base internationally.
Willy Vlautin, Richmond Fontaine’s lead vocalist and songwriter, appears at BookPeople tonight at 7pm, and although he might perform a song or two, he’ll mainly be there to read from his new novel, The Motel Life
(Harper Perennial). It’s his first and, while it contains some awkward moments, the story of two downtrodden twentysomething brothers living in Reno, Nev., dealing with an accidental hit-and-run that results in death, is one of the most gut-wrenching I’ve read.
Told in prose as bleak as the territory it covers, it’s soaked in beer and whiskey and snow and ice, with outrageous flights of fancy from one brother and understated napkin drawings from the other. Vlautin’s way with words has been compared to Steinbeck and Carver, and while he’s not in that sort of stratosphere yet, The Motel Life
is an undeniably good first effort. Once you accustom yourself to the disasters its characters are facing, it ends.
Fittingly, Guillermo Arriaga, screenwriter for Babel
and 21 Grams
, bought the movie rights to the novel, and the translation of tragedy to the big screen is sure to follow in those films' layered, gritty style. Read More | Comment »