1. Read at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville last weekend. Hell of a good town. Had a great time. Thanks to Rachael, Cale, Katy, and everyone who came out. Thanks especially to Lisa at Nightbird. Also got to spend a little time at Dickson Street Bookshop. What a bookstore! Only had about fifteen minutes, but I found some great stuff. Impossible not to in that joint. Can’t wait to go back and spend a few hours there.

Reading at Nightbird Books.

Reading at Nightbird Books.

Haul from Dickson Street Bookshop.

Haul from Dickson Street Bookshop.

2. Thanks to John Stonehouse for this review of Gravesend, Gareth Price for this one, and Lee Durkee for this one.

3. My pal Jimmy Cajoleas interviewed Willy Vlautin over at Lent. A couple of choice quotes from Willy:

“You get beat up in life, and you get sucker-punched, and bad things happen. If you keep an open heart and don’t get bitter and you keep trying, then shit will break your way once in a while. I really try to believe that all the time. So I think the characters kind of reflect that.”

“And I tend to try to write as a fan. I’m a firm believer in being a fan of things. I try to write with blood, you know, with the things that haunt me the most.”

4. George Pelecanos is the guest programmer on TCM tonight. Showing two of my favorites, The Seven-Ups and The Outfit.

Here’s a thing I wrote about The Outfit for my ’70s crime movie blog. And here’s a thing I wrote about The Seven-Ups.

5. I’m reading Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time. Goddamn.

6. A few things I’m really excited about re: Record Store Day:
a) All that’s happening at The End of All Music here in Oxford (where I work part-time)
b) Songs: Ohia’s Journey On: Collected Singles
c) This 7″ from The Delines, Willy Vlautin’s new band (as well as their forthcoming LP, Colfax)

7. Jason Molina passed away a year ago yesterday. Still tears out my guts that he’s gone. Here’s an essay I wrote for The Rumpus about how much his work has meant to me.

8. Happy St. Paddy’s Day. This is just about my favorite song/poem ever. And this performance drops me every damn time.

9. Recently picked up one of my favorite movies, Rolling Thunder, on Blu-Ray. Watched it with pals Ace Atkins, Jack Pendarvis, and Megan Abbott for our movie night on Saturday. Ace’s wife, Angela, shared some North Carolina moonshine with us. Best thing I’ve ever had. No kidding. Was having some killer wisdom tooth pain and it got cured. After a killer dinner and the moonshine, we rewatched the Root Beer Guy episode of Adventure Time (Jack writes for the show and voices RBG). Then we settled in for Rolling Thunder – I think I was the only one who’d seen it before – and it was goddamn wonderful.  Shout!Factory did a great job with the Blu-Ray. John Flynn is a hell of a good director but there were times when the movie looked as beautiful as a William Eggleston photo. And Linda Haynes, well, we all got a little obsessed with Linda Haynes.

Moonshine.

Moonshine.

Linda Haynes in ROLLING THUNDER.

Linda Haynes and William Devane in ROLLING THUNDER.

The N Train

Yusuf Hawkins was killed twenty-five years ago in Bensonhurst. “The N Train,” an essay I wrote about discovering evil through that tragedy, is up today at TROP.

yusuf

And, on a not altogether unrelated note,  my review of Willy Vlautin’s The Free, a beautiful novel that tries to make sense of injustice, is up at Los Angeles Review of Books.

Buy a signed/personalized copy of The Free here.

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Goddamn Good Days

1. Thanks to Will Byrnes for this kind & thoughtful review of GRAVESEND. Made my day.

Especially appreciated this part:
“While the bulk of the story is dark, there are some rays of light. Good can be found, although more in thought than deed. Hope digs its way back up to the surface, allowing for some second chances. Alessandra’s affection for a particular painting at the Met can be seen both as an artistic inspiration and an omen. Her participation in various forms of Manhattan life lifts her spirits. After all, she did manage to make it out to the west coast. But hope had better move quickly before another body lands on it.”

(And thanks so much to everyone who has taken time to write a review.)

2. My favorite writer in the world, Willy Vlautin, read here in Oxford on Thursday night. Got to meet him finally – I’ve been a huge fan since I found The Motel Life and Northline at a bookstore in the Bronx in 2008, and we’ve e-mailed back and forth over the last few years, ever since I interviewed him for the Yalobusha Review. Goddamn, he’s the greatest guy I ever met, and I was trying not to geek out on him too much. He read on Thacker Mountain Radio, which was great, but I selfishly wish he’d done a solo reading, so he could’ve read longer and played a few songs and done a Q&A. But he read one of my favorite scenes from The Free, Jo opening up to Pauline in the hospital, and he played “The Kid from Belmont Street,” (the first song he plays here), which is about Jo. (Also check out “43”and “A Letter to the Patron Saint of Nurses” from We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River, songs that reveal where ideas for The Free originated.) We hung out after the reading at City Grocery with Willy – pals Tom & Beth Ann, Jimmy, Andy, Brendan, Cody were there too – and then a few of us went to dinner at Bouré. Man, what a great night. We talked about Jim Thompson and David Goodis and Charles Willeford and Ann Patchett and Pink Floyd and Tom Petty and The Motel Life movie and so mu ch great stuff it’s hard to call it all back up.  Jimmy, Andy, Brendan and I walked Willy back to his hotel around midnight, and one of my favorite things was Jimmy asking Willy if Jo was alright. “No, man,” Willy said. “I don’t think she is.  I’m sorry.”

Here’s a picture that Jimmy snapped at Bouré of Willy, Brendan, and me:

willyv

3. I read at the public library here in Oxford on Thursday. Thanks to Laura Beth, Sarah, Andy, and everyone who came out – I had such a great time. I was nervous as hell about doing my first Q&A, but I think it went pretty well. Here are some pictures the library posted (my son, Eamon, was the real attraction as usual.)

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4. I made a soundtrack for Gravesend on Spotify a while ago. You can find it here.

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“Because hope, it’s better than having nothing at all.”

Willy Vlautin’s one of my favorite writers, and The Motel Life is one of my favorite books. I’ve been looking forward to this. I was also worried that they’d run it off the rails somehow.

I’m happy to report that the Polskys did a solid job with it. It’s a very good movie, almost great, and while it doesn’t live up to the book, it’s faithful as hell and doesn’t misfire in any major ways.

A few things I didn’t like/wasn’t sure about:
1. The score. It was intrusive, and I didn’t like the way it worked so heavily in the background like someone breathing all over the movie. It especially bothered me in the flashback scene between Earl and Frank. They just should’ve had Vlautin & Paul Brainard do something instead.

2. The music overall was problematic. Even great songs from Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan felt a little out of place. Music is so key in the book, and I feel like that’s totally missing from the film. They had a ready-made soundtrack with Richmond Fontaine’s The Fitzgerald – it would’ve been great to see that used. And we needed some Willie Nelson.

3. I don’t know why they switched Tyson-Holyfield to Tyson-Douglas. Having just read Tyson’s memoir, that stood out as being particularly problematic. I just don’t see anyone betting against an undefeated Tyson – it doesn’t make sense to bet Douglas in the way that betting Holyfield makes sense. It also switches the action from 1996 to 1990, which doesn’t seem right.

4. The place stuff was good but could’ve been better. I didn’t feel Reno as much as I do in the book.

5. The ending is missing something – I’m not sure what, but it doesn’t FEEL like the ending of the book. I won’t be specific in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but if you love the book you’ll know what I mean.

A few things I really liked:
1. Dakota Fanning as Annie James. This surprised me most of all. I thought she was perfect. She had down the feel of the character as Vlautin made her and was exactly what I pictured. And the Polskys handled Annie and Frank’s backstory effectively.

2. Kris Kristofferson as Earl Hurley. Goddamnit, he’s the best.

3. Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff are damn good as the Flannigan Brothers. Dorff is a little old for Jerry Lee, but that’s a minor thing. Hirsch is one of the most consistent young actors around – between this and Prince Avalanche, my opinion of him is even higher.

4. The animation worked. I wondered how they could possibly get that part of the book down – Frank telling stories to Jerry Lee – and I thought that animation was a smart route to go. Reminded me a little of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.

Overall, the film was way more than I thought it’d be. There’s a certain tension that comes with seeing a book you love adapted. I’m relieved that the Polskys approached it as an act of love – it shouldn’t be lost on us that this sad and hopeful story about brothers was directed by brothers. It’s not a Hollywood whorehouse movie. It’s dark and true and real. Most importantly, it taps into the tone and spirit of the book.

 

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On Gravesend

I’m really honored that some of my favorite writers took the time to read Gravesend and that they had some nice things to say about it:

Gravesend is a taut exploration of the ways we hurt and save (or try to save) one another. With unforgettable characters, a fist for a plot and a deeply evocative setting, Boyle navigates alleys and streets with the best of them, Lehane, Price, and Pelecanos.”
Tom Franklin, author of Poachers, Hell at the Breech, Smonk, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and The Tilted World

Gravesend is a book that hits you in the guts the same way David Goodis or Charles Willeford’s books do. Boyle’s mining that dark edge of America where no one is safe, not even from themselves. A dark ride but a seriously great ride.”
Willy Vlautin, author of The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete, and The Free

Gravesend kicks ass! An irresistible combo of an insider’s tour of Brooklyn and true and authentic 21st Century Noir. Boyle is one to watch.”
Ace Atkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Broken Places and Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland.

“William Boyle has written a terrific novel for the new millennium of Noir. A beautiful actress returns to her Brooklyn neighborhood where she finds the dark world she left has gotten worse. Peopled by ex-cons and ex-cops, teenage gangsters and Russian mobsters, Gravesend creates a claustrophobic intimacy as it moves swiftly to its shocking end. I finished the book grateful for release from its relentless grip, and admiring the guts it took to write such a brutal story.”
Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight, Out of the Woods, and The Good Brother

“William Boyle’s Gravesend is a bruiser and a heartbreaker of a debut. With echoes of Lehane and Pelecanos but with a rhythm and poignancy all its own, it’s a gripping tale of family, revenge, the strains of the past and the losses that never leave us.”
Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me, The End of Everything, Queenpin, The Song is You, and Die A Little

“There’s a natural, forthright style here that seems born of this writer’s sense of duty to his characters, these denizens of non-hipster Brooklyn living out the dooms they were born to, nurturing their vices, the hours of their lives plaited masterfully together, their lusts and regrets interlaced.  The novel unspools without hurry but also without an extra line, giving neither the desire nor opportunity to look up from it.  There’s an exhilaration that accompanies seeing a place and its folks this clearly and fairly, feeling at once that the writer is nowhere to be found and also working tirelessly to show you the right things.  Boyle arrives in thorough possession of his seedy yet venerable world, this low-roofed urban hinterland.  I can’t remember being more convinced by the people in a novel.  Boyle’s characters, each in his or her own way, are accepting the likely future—with violence, with sex, with resignation, with rebellion, by being upbeat.  You’ll be grateful, and it won’t take long, to be in this writer’s hands.”
John Brandon, author of Arkansas, Citrus County, and A Million Heavens

“Boyle understands blood in all its meanings. He’s a dark poet who knows how to draw you close so he can slip the knife into your heart. Gravesend is deeply felt, brutal, tragic, personal and beautiful. You won’t forget it.”
Jack Pendarvis, author of The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure, Your Body is Changing, and Awesome

Gravesend plops you down in the midst of a tragedy waiting to happen, and as the story rumbles toward its shattering conclusion, you’ll find yourself digging in your heels against the terrible inevitability of it all. William Boyle lays bare a seedy corner of Brooklyn and the tortured souls who inhabit it in his debut, and in so doing stakes out his own turf among up-and-coming two-fisted writers.”
Richard Lange, author of Dead Boys, This Wicked World, and Angel Baby

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The Free

The FreeThe Free by Willy Vlautin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I give a lot of books that I really like five stars on Goodreads, but I don’t mean it the way I mean it with Willy Vlautin’s books. He’s the patron saint of the sick and the sad, and this is another damn beautiful novel. He tears you down and builds you back up the way only he can. I broke down crying at least ten times but walked away from the book feeling happy to be alive.

View all my reviews

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