Reno native and award-winning author and musician Willy Vlautin is taking his talents on tour across Northern Nevada this month. He’s one of three featured writers in this year's Nevada Reads, a book club from Nevada Humanities. Vlautin will give readings and even play a little music at various statewide events in September. KUNR’s Holly Hutchings sat down with him to talk about his latest novel Don’t Skip Out on Me, which is set in the Silver State.
The lonely landscape of central Nevada is matched by the tone of Vlautin’s latest book Don’t Skip Out on Me. The story centers on Horace Hopper, a man in his early twenties struggling to overcome childhood trauma and abandonment as he searches to find who he really is.
“I think the idea of identity is so confusing in America today,” Vlautin said. “And I think I was trying to talk about the right to who has an Amerian identity. Also, this kid has been so rattled and so lost in his life, he makes up his own identity.”
Cast aside by his mother before hitting his teen years, Horace is passed on to his grandmother in Tonopah, who also disregards him because of his half-Paiute heritage. Horace is taken in by an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Reese, who live on a sheep ranch north of the small Nevada town. They want Horace to be himself and they show him love, but author Willy Vlautin says the young man feels undeserving of it.
“He wanted to prove that he could be somebody and is worthy of owning the ranch. And he just cannot see, even though the old man keeps telling him, ‘You gotta be yourself. You have to accept yourself and we care about you’ --he just can’t. And he’s not a talented boxer, but it’s the only plan he’s come up with. Being as ambitious as he is, he moves to a city and tries to change his identity to become a boxer.”
Horace leaves the security of the ranch and the only caring family unit he knows to pursue his dream. He goes to Arizona, trying to make it, only to be hung up by his lack of confidence and sometimes even acts of self-sabotage. He has some wins and many losses.
His career takes him all over, but it's his time in Las Vegas that really makes Horace face himself.
"Las Vegas is a tricky town because that's where he grew up. For his first eight years, he lived with is mom, then his mom remarried. They had a new kid and the mom kind of shipped him off. I think Vegas means abandonment for Horace--that idea that you kind of come back to where you started when you're in pain."
Vlautin, himself, has faced the pain of dwindling confidence and says he can be seen a bit in Horace.
"Throughout my life, that's always been one of those things that has beat me up along the way, so I think that's why I always sort of gravitate toward damaged, kind of rougher characters because that's the way I feel, and I feel more comfortable around them. When I'm writing my stories, I always have characters like that, like Horace, that don't give up but are a little beat up."
Vlautin and his band Richmond Fontaine also wrote a soundtrack to go along with the novel. Vlautin says that some books feel like music, and this is one of them. He wants readers to finish Horace's story, then listen to the songs and feel the melancholy of Horace's life while driving through the middle of Nevada.
Nevada Reads is a program of Nevada Humanities. To see a full lineup of Vlautin’s tour and hear more about the music and the book, visit their site here.