Book Review: The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin

Image result for the motel life book cover art

Title: The Motel Life

Author: Willy Vlautin

Genre: Literary Fiction

Number of Pages: 240

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes



I got lucky, the first book I read this year turned out to be a fantastic one. The Motel Life was made into a film a while back, but I don’t think hardly anybody saw it. I’ve known about it for a long time by I’m reluctant to see watch it because I feel like there’s no way it could measure up to the novel and I feel like it might diminish the experience of reading the book a little bit. Anyway, The Motel Life is about two adult brothers who are both alcoholics and have never made much of themselves.


Frank and Jerry Lee have few connections to other human beings and they’re fiercely devoted to one another, hanging out in dives and working menial jobs but never seeming to move forward. One day, Jerry Lee wakes up Frank in the middle of the night and tells him he was driving home intoxicated and killed a kid on a bike. Frank makes the life-changing decision to help Jerry Lee hide the body and they skip town without knowing where to go or how to end up completely broke and without a running vehicle in the middle of nowhere. Frank decides he’s going to come up with a plan to keep his brother out of prison and guilt-fueled depression takes hold of Jerry Lee almost immediately.


The main characters weren’t exactly what you’d call stand-up guys but even though what they did at the beginning of the book was terrible I was still 100% invested in them throughout. They weren’t all that touchy-feely but their vulnerability was so painfully on display and their emotionally fraught relationship was compelling. I thought the inclusion of Frank’s absurd stories that he comes up with the entertain the people he cares about was a very nice touch. The stories are rambling and hyperbolic like a child’s but they display so many different form of wish fulfillment in a way that’s subtle, not didactic. I also like the way the prose is so clear and straightforward while at the same time being so infused with emotion.


I like a lot of literary fiction that’s more wordy and laden with imagery and metaphor but that kind of writing doesn’t tend to be one of my favorites. The Motel Life is would also be considered literary fiction but one of it’s most distinctive qualities is the plainspoken voice of the narrator, Frank.  The only criticism I had was that I felt the ending was a little too abrupt.  I think this was the author’s first novel and endings is probably something he’s gotten better at over time.  While this book is generally depressing and makes you glad your life isn’t total trash, there’s some humor and Willy Vlautin clearly has compassion for the damaged characters he brings to life.

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