From Publishers Weekly
Singer-novelist Vlautin's second novel (after The Motel Life
) reads more like a movie treatment than a novel. Allison Johnson, 22, is a high school dropout with a destructive lifestyle (alcoholism, self-mutilation, vituperative boyfriend who knocks her up early in the novel); the only positive influence in Allison's life is her favorite actor, Paul Newman, who appears to her during traumatic moments. Their banal conversations center on Newman's movie roles and how they equip him to continually bail Allison out of her sorry situation. She takes his advice (get the hell out of Dodge, as they say, and most of all, kid, buck up) and moves from Las Vegas to Reno. But pregnant Allison's life isn't much better in Reno: the cycle of self-loathing continues, and even though Newman implores Allison to turn her life around, the damage is all but done. Much of the writing reads like stage direction, and the abbreviated chapters give the narrative a rushed, slapdash feel. (May)
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*Starred Review* Timorous, twentysomething Allison Johnson is pregnant. She didn’t complete high school and has worked as a waitress for several years. She often gets drunk and quickly passes out and then writes herself letters that shriek her lack of worth. But her biggest fear is of Jimmy Bodie, her abusive, budding-skinhead boyfriend. So she leaves Las Vegas and moves to Reno. She gives her son up for adoption, begins waitressing again, and has imaginary conversations with actor Paul Newman that help her carry on. Vlautin uses the same strikingly spare and simple prose in Northline that distinguised his critically acclaimed first novel, The Motel Life (2007). His essential subject, decent people enduring difficult lives, also remains the same, but here he takes a giant step in his growth as a novelist, plumbing much deeper into the emotional core of his characters. Northline recalls a dust-jacket blurb on an early edition of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men: “Two hours to read, 20 years to forget.” --Thomas Gaughan