DON’T SKIP OUT ON ME
Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin is the chosen book for 2019 Nevada Reads.
It is the second Willy Vlautin book I’ve read and felt worth recommending. Vlautin is not your ordinary author; he is also a singer, composer, and musician. Before yesterday, September 14th, I hadn’t listened to any of Vlautin’s music, but taking part in Nevada Humanities 2019 Lit Crawl, I attended the venue where Vlautin not only read from Don’t Skip Out on Me but also performed music that was inspired by the characters in the book.
It’s hard to explain how a novel about a sheep-ranching couple in their seventies who have befriended and taken in a near-abandoned young teenager can so touch the heart and imagination of readers. The boy, Horace Hopper, a young man of Paiute and Irish heritage, was taken in when he was in his early teens and we meet him when he is older and wanting to leave the ranch to train as a boxer. He has dreams of being a champion prize-fighter, a champion human being, somebody who can live past his life of abandonment as a Paiute Indian.
The novel opens as Horace is preparing to saddle up for the last time before leaving the ranch. He is riding out to bring supplies to one of Mr. Reese’s sheepherders who has been up in the mountains for several months. It is this scene in the barn that first captures the quiet respect Horace and Mr. Reese have for each other. And for any reader who has been or worked around horses, the scene is so real you can almost smell the horses.
Mr. and Mrs. Reese love Horace as if he was their son, but they also understand his need to find a life beyond sheep ranching. They have grown daughters who have left home and would like their parents to retire, to sell the ranch. The Reeses, however, love their ranch and each other and they also believe that Horace will eventually give up his dreams of boxing and return to take over the ranch. Horace is a natural with horses and ranching. His dreams of boxing become his way of fighting against a father who left him, then a mother who gave him to an elderly grandmother to raise who then gave him up to the county.
Horace will do anything to find out who he really is. He exchanges his Paiute identity to fight as a Mexican. He fightys in small venues in the southwest and Mexico. He is good, but not that good. The punishment he is willing to take is heartbreaking. we never stop rooting for him as do the Reeses. The reader wants him to return to the ranch as much as the Reeses. But as Horace begins to recognize his love for the Reeses and the life he gave up at the ranch, the reader begins to understand that sometimes even love may not be enough.
“Don’t Skip Out on Me” is a novel of incredible tenderness in the face of a young man’s harsh reality. It is a novel rich in the landscape of both the high desert and the heart. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Willy Vlautin: The Free; Lean on Pete; Northline; The Motel Life.