In the debut novel from Vlautin, member of the country-rock band Richmond Fontaine, misfit brothers, short on luck and long on love, go on the lam in the aftershock of horror.
A bike-riding kid is killed in Reno by a hit-and-run drunk. At the wheel is Jerry Lee Flannigan, his mom dead and his dad useless, himself a tragic case who, as a teen hopping a freight to San Francisco, fell under the wheels and lost his leg. Crazed with guilt over the dead boy, he ditches the corpse and splits for Montana in a ’74 Dodge Fury, his brother Frank riding shotgun, clutching Jim Beam and Pepto Bismol. A Willie Nelson tape as their soundtrack, the pair embark on an alcoholic odyssey as Frank becomes a slacker Scheherazade spinning tall tales to keep them sane. It’s a tough gig—manufacturing whoppers about fleeing blood-drinking, morphine-addled pirates and creating a fantasy future “just working the cattle and growing the alfalfa”—but Jerry Lee thirsts for diversion. Drunk on remorse, he has botched a gunshot suicide bid and lies bored in the hospital, fearing the law and grieving the ghost of his victim. Waiting out the convalescence, Frank frees a sweet mongrel from a backyard chain, and dog in tow, hits blue-denim bars like the Elbow Room, where he shares beer and sympathy with a brokedown posse of comradely hard cases. He tries hooking up with his old girlfriend, a tender-souled waif who’d torn up his heart by turning hooker at her mom’s instigation. But mainly, he nurses bottles and his brother, awaiting hope.
A simple story, well told.