It's been a tough couple of weeks. Stress. Black dog. Call it what you will. It's not as bad as it has been in previous years. I've been in states before where I have been barely able to read a sentence and when I can it seems to deconstruct the minute it hits my mind - slippages of meaning - no fixed meanings, just a slip-slide into postmodern meaninglessness. Maybe that's a truer state? Anyway. I'm reading at least - and doing some writing. I've been dipping in and out of John Fante's 'Ask the Dust'. I like reading American fiction; like American realist drama it seems to speak more to my own experiences of underbellies and gritty paths. A few years ago, when it was first published, I read Willy Vlautin's 'The Motel Life', which was published by the ever dependable Faber & Faber. It was about two brothers living in motels in Reno. I remember thinking that Vlautin was a great story teller. He's the frontman for the rock band 'Richmond Fontaine'. He has been described as the Steinbeck of the crystal meth generation. I wouldn't say 'crystal meth' generation. He knows of what he writes; it shows. He wrote another book in 2008 called 'Northline', about an alcoholic waitress, which I'm going to read next. But yesterday I bought his third novel 'Lean on Pete'. I read it late into last night and in this morning and have only just finished it. It's about a boy, Charley, 15 years old, whose father is beaten up by a Samoan. Charley, who has begun to work at the local racetrack for a bitter old trainer, ends up leaving home with 'Lean on Pete', a horse owned by the trainer, and who is Charley's only friend. He goes in search of his aunt and along the way we are introduced to a range of characters, all carrying their own griefs and neuroses. These are the people who are ekeing out lives on the edges. Vlautin has a simple, unpretentious prose style that glides along so easily, even though the journeys he charts are anything but. On the cover of 'Lean on Pete' Colm Toibin says 'this guy is a real discovery'. He's right. He is. Now I'm going to the bookshop to buy Northline. Here's a link to Willy Vlautin's website.