Vlautin combines a hard look at some of society’s fringe members with a whimsical touch that makes it all go down much easier. Allison Johnson is in her twenties, with an abusive, skin-head boyfriend, Jimmy, a bad alcohol dependence and not exactly the highest opinion of herself. When she discovers that she is pregnant, Allison heads for Reno, desperate to get away from Jimmy, wanting to give birth there. She knows she is not up to raising a child, so gives it up for adoption and builds a small life for herself, waitressing, doing telephone solicitation for Curt Vacuum cleaners. As she regains some self-esteem, she gains a group of people in her life, her overweight, pot-smoking boss at Curt, Dan, a damaged customer at her diner. When she is really low, she summons an image of Paul Newman who talks her through her situations.
Despite the harshness of some of the characters, the beautyless surroundings, and the tough situations, this is a lovely book. Vlautin’s style is spare, which works well here. And although Allison is far from wonderful, we come to feel for her and root for her to succeed in her journey of self-reconstruction. It is a short read, but a satisfying one. I am eager to read more of Vlautin’s work.