Harper Perennial, $22.99, 269 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-268445-5
This weeks MBR defies genre. Although noirish in tone, it’s unclassifiable by nature because it includes elements of several different styles. It’s a tough guy story that could have been written by Hemingway or London, featuring a plot which might’ve come from Flannery O’Connor herself. It’s a coming-of-age tale that professes hope but appears headed for tragedy, as both a young, and an old protagonist try to find their way in an unforgiving world.
Don’t Skip Out On Me, by Willy Vlautin, tells the story of Horace Hopper, a nineteen year-old with dreams of becoming a world champion boxer. He’s ashamed of his mixed-race parentage; his mother was a Piute Indian and his father Irish. Horace lives on a remote sheep ranch outside of Tonopah, Nevada with Mr. & Mrs. Reese, the elderly couple who took him in as a young boy, and raised him when he was abandoned by his own family. It’s an emotional scar which runs so deep, that Horace thinks his only redemption will come from practicing the techniques in the self-help books he reads and re-reads. They’ve convinced him that he can reinvent himself as a tough Mexican boxer named Hector Hildago. He leaves the solitude of ‘The Little Reese Ranch’ and moves to Tucson, Arizona, and tries to establish himself as a boxer. Back in Nevada, Mr. Reese is trying to hang on to a dying way of life that’s no longer economically viable. Age has caught up with him and he’s no longer physically able to handle the hardscrabble ranching lifestyle he loves so well. At opposite ends of the age spectrum, both men are trying to do the impossible. Mr. Reese has intentions of leaving the lands and property to the boy he’s raised and loves like a son, while Horace dreams of returning as a world champion, wrapped in glory and redeemed in the eyes of all who know him. Told in neat, declarative sentences that wring the readers heart out with every word, Don’t Skip Out On Me takes us into the fiercest of arenas to plumb the depths of the human heart. It’s a journey that won’t be forgotten by any who take it!