Willy Vlautin’s stunning fourth novel opens with Leroy, a young, wounded, Iraq veteran, waking to a rare moment of clarity, his senses flooded with the beauty of remembering who he is but the pain of realising it won’t last. When his attempt to end his half-life fails, he is taken to the local hospital where he is looked after by a nurse called Pauline, and visited by Freddie, the night-watchman from his group home for disabled men.
As the stories of these wounded characters circle and cross each other, we come to learn more of their lives. The father who caused Pauline’s mother to abandon them both, and who Pauline loves and loathes in equal measure, the daughters with whom Freddie yearns to be reunited and, in a mysterious and frightening adventure story, the girlfriend Leroy dreams of protecting.
Evoking a world which is still trying to come to terms with the legacy of a forgotten war, populated by those who struggle to pay for basic health care, Vlautin also captures how it is the small acts of kindness which can make a difference between life and death, between imprisonment and liberty. Haunting and essential, The Free is an unforgettable read.
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