MTPR

'Don't Skip Out On Me' With Willy Vlautin

Apr 19, 2018

"I guess I’ve always tried to be a better guy than I am, but I’m like Horace, I always fall back on the things I love. I can’t help it." -- Willy Vlautin

A moving story about a man’s search for belonging in all the wrong places, "Don’t Skip Out on Me," is an understated yet powerful exploration of identity and loneliness pulled from deep within America’s soul. Publishing for the first time in hardcover, award-winning author Willy Vlautin follows in the footsteps of his earlier beloved novels, delivering another emotionally raw tale of a tragic and beautiful life.

Don't Skip Out on Me

The following highlights are from a conversation with Willy Vlautin about his novel, "Don't Skip Out on Me". To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast. Lastly, the music from this episode are from the book's soundtrack, which can be found here.  

Sarah Aronson: Did you have a moment where you felt like you had to sacrifice something to the music gods or literary gods?

Willy Vlautin: No, the only thing I ever did that way—it was kind of pathetic—I went through a Charles Bukowski phase when I was 21-22. I had like seven of his books and I started thinking like him, you know, all I thought about was drinking and ladies. And then one day in some kind of sober-hungover state I remember it was really hot out and I was working at the airport filling cracks in the tarmac and I said, “Well, I’ve gotta stop thinking like Bukowski cause I’ll be a bum.” So after I got off work I went to this bookstore and sold all my Bukowski books to this guy that owned this little bookstore and then a week later I went back looking for them and they’d already been sold.

I guess I’ve always tried to be a better guy than I am, but I’m like Horace, I always fall back on the things I love. I can’t help it.

Have you ever replaced that collection?

No, you know. Nah, not really.

You let it go.

I let it go. After my initial thing I let it go. I’ve always liked parts of Bukowski but if I read him a lot I start thinking that way and I don’t like thinking that way. But I’ve enjoyed his stuff, sure.

If I’m thinking about the theme of music in the book and also the theme of music in your life, how would you say music can provide anchorage for identity?

Well, if you’re lonely and live in a home that’s tricky or the ground isn’t always solid, I mean records are solid. They’re always the same, you know. Growing up records saved my life. They were like great friends of mine because they were very consistent and they were always there to protect you and be your friend. So music . . . I really bought into it, I mean too much so. I mean, I really bought into it. I bought into it so much I had to start playing, and no one in their right mind would’ve ever thought  I should be a musician. But I just loved it so much. But you can’t eat the records, you know, and sleeping with records doesn’t work, so you have to plant your flag among ‘em. You have to join up. So I did. I just started playing at like 12-13 just because I wanted to be a part of it. So yeah, music, I bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

Is the world built to break your heart, Willy?

Well of course! I mean, you’re born and then you get beat up all along the way. Even the most privileged kids with the best parents in the world. . .you’re gonna get heartache. Bad things happen. Life happens. Uh, so yeah, it is built to break your heart. You know if you’re an old man you see all your friends die. You see your body fall apart. So, yeah man, it is built to break our hearts.

About the Book:

A moving story about a man’s search for belonging in all the wrong places, "Don’t Skip Out on Me," is an understated yet powerful exploration of identity and loneliness pulled from deep within America’s soul. Publishing for the first time in hardcover, award-winning author Willy Vlautin follows in the footsteps of his earlier beloved novels, delivering another emotionally raw tale of a tragic and beautiful life.

In addition, Vlautin’s band Richmond Fontaine has created a soundtrack, which will be available for download with finished books, that perfectly evokes the spirit and setting of this stunning and heartbreaking new novel. Hear a sampler of songs from the album here. 

Horace Hopper has spent most of his life on a Nevada sheep ranch, but dreams of something bigger. Mr. and Mrs. Reese, the aging ranchers, took him in after his parents abandoned him and treated him like a son, intending to someday leave the ranch in his hands. But Horace, ashamed of not only his half-Paiute, half-Irish heritage but also the fact that his parents didn’t want him, feels as if he doesn’t truly belong on the ranch, or anywhere. Knowing that he needs to make a name for himself, Horace leaves behind the only loving home he has ever known for Tucson, where he can prove his worth as a championship boxer. 

But to become a champion, Horace must change not just the way he eats, trains, and thinks—he has to change who he is. Reinventing himself as Hector Hidalgo, a scrappy Mexican fighter whose family fled the violence of the drug cartels for the safety of the Nevada mountains, Horace begins training and entering fights. His journey brings him as far as Texas, Salt Lake City, and the boxing rings of Mexico, pitting him against bigger and better fighters as his reputation grows. But though his new life in the city means he is constantly surrounded by people, Horace grows more and more isolated, withdrawing into himself as he struggles with the pain of his boxing injuries and his loneliness.

Back in Nevada, Mr. Reese is struggling to hold onto a life that is no longer sustainable. At seventy-two years old and without Horace’s help, he is unable to keep up with the demands of his ranch, but also unable to give up the only life he knows. He longs to bring Horace back home, but knows that the boy must be allowed to follow his own path.

As the emotional and physical toll of Horace’s fights begins to catch up with him, he retreats farther and farther away from the Reeses and his old life. Unable to walk back into his tiny Nevada town a failure, Horace ends up on the streets of Las Vegas, lonelier and more desperate than ever. Mr. Reese catches up with him there, and in their poignant reunion Horace finally realizes that he can’t change who he is or outrun his destiny. A beautiful, wrenching portrait of a downtrodden man, Don’t Skip Out on Me narrates the struggle to find one’s place in a vast and lonely world with profound tenderness, and will make you consider those around you—and yourself—differently.

Willy Vlautin
Credit Dan Eccles

About the Author:

Willy Vlautin is the author of "The Free," "Lean on Pete," "Northline," and "The Motel Life." He is the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine and a member of the band The Delines. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.  For more on Willy Vlautin, visit: http://www.willyvlautin.com