Don't Skip Out on Me

Willy Vlautin's (The Free) works have explored the American underclass; he champions the poor, the marginalized and the forgotten with a grace and understated lyrical precision. His latest, Don't Skip Out on Me, a powerful and provocative story about identity, continues this approach.

Twenty-one-year-old Horace Hopper is a half-Paiute, half-Irish ranch hand from Tonopah, Nev., who yearns to be a champion boxer. Horace's elderly guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Reese, are sheep ranchers who have cared for Horace since he was 14 and have come to regard him as a son. However, Horace struggles with his parents' abandonment of him. He feels the only way he can reconcile this identity crisis is to leave the safety and comfort of the ranch and find his own way, despite the odds and the unconditional love the Reeses have shown.

The Nevada desert imprints loneliness on its inhabitants, and mentors disappoint. With a depth of feeling and immediacy, Vlautin conveys the struggle to live the dream, only to see it turn to despair when hopes do not live up to expectations. His characters are textured; their problems belong to the everyman. Readers can root for Horace's success, as well as for his reunion with the Reeses, while he learns his lessons through anger and pain. Vlautin's powerful story reverberates long after the book has been closed. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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