Willy Vlautin writes songs for and fronts the rootsy band Richmond Fontaine, who have in their time played Irish dates and venues such as Whelans, garnering a modest following here in the alt-country category.
The band's albums include Post to Wire and Thirteen Cities. Vlautin - a natural story-teller in song and in story - is the prize-winning author of three acclaimed novels, The Motel Life (2005), Northline (2007) and Lean on Pete (2010). The Free, Vlautin's fourth novel, is due for publication in January and tells the story of Leroy, a young, wounded Iraq veteran.
Much is expected of the work, given the rapturous reception accorded Lean on Pete by readers lucky enough to have discovered Willy Vlautin. It's a beautifully captivating story about a young boy who leaves demanding and poorly-paid work at a Pacific Northwest racetrack to begin a journey across the United States in search of his aunt (his parents are dead).
His late adolescence is significantly short on love and affection, but Pete is the old horse who becomes his travelling companion and only friend in the world. This extraordinary novel was shortlisted for the (Dublin) IMPAC Prize.
The Free, on the other hand, tells the story of Leroy, a young, wounded Iraq veteran, who is looked after by a nurse called Pauline. In the course of the narrative, he is also visited by Freddie, the night-watchman from his group home for disabled men. The war is quickly forgotten by the general populace, but Vlautin's veterans struggle to pay for basic health care in the USA.
The Scottish poet and memoirist John Burnside has paid tribute to Vlautin's fiction in glowing terms, describing him as "courageous, powerful, wonderfully compassionate."
"This guy is a real discovery," declares Colm Tóibín of the Reno-born author. Vlautin now lives in Portland, Oregon, but he will be in Ireland in late January, promoting his new novel.