Title: Don’t Skip Out on Me
Author: Willy Vlautin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Number of Pages: 280
This is probably my least favorite of the Willy Vlautin books I’ve read, but his writing is so great that something that’s not my favorite is still pretty damn good. Don’t Skip Out on Me tells the tragic story of a Horace Hopper, a half-Irish half-Paiute man who wants to become a famous boxer. Horace was abandoned by his mom when he was little, and he lives on an isolated ranch with his elderly adoptive parents. Motivated by internalized racism and the belief that ‘no Native American has ever become a great boxer,’ Horace pretends to be Hispanic and his life as a rough-and-tumble amateur boxer turns out to be more grueling and devastating than he’d expected.
Like Willy Vlautin’s other books, this novel is very character- and dialogue-driven and written in a matter-of-fact, conversational way. All the characters are believable and even the minor ones manage to make an impression. One of the things that made me not quite as crazy about this book as opposed to the others was there was a lot of stuff about boxing, which I just don’t care that much about. I’ve never been a sports-type of person and to me boxing is just dangerous and stupid, and all the scenes where Horace boxes with other up-and-comers just made me check out mentally.
Vlautin has a way of writing really flawed characters and then making you feel weirdly protective of them, and Don’t Skip Out on Me is no exception. His characters are marginalized outcasts but also tend to be man children (or in the case of Northline, a woman child.) Their naivete is emotionally affecting but also is part of what makes them vulnerable in a cold, hostile world.
My favorite of Willy Vlautin’s character is probably Charley from Lean on Pete but really, I like all of them. He’s so great at developing memorable characters who feel like real people. I think I’ve read several of his books recently between short intervals so I wasn’t as crazy about this book, because a lot of it felt somewhat familiar to me. I still think he’s great and I’m disappointed that I just couldn’t get into The Night Always Comes.