The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin is the American author’s sixth novel, and personally I think his backlist contains some of the best books I’ve ever read. As well as being a writer, Vlautin was frontman for alternative country band Richmond Fontaine, and is now the creative driving force behind The Delines. His songwriting deals with the downtrodden underclasses of American society, and the way in which the so-called American dream is a bogus idea that hides a broken society for so many.
Vlautin’s novels deal in similar terrain – I think of them like Tom Waits songs in book form, stories of hardworking people down on their luck, trying to get by and find a little happiness and kindness where they can.
Two of Vlautin’s books have been turned into acclaimed movies so there’s definitely an audience out there for his fiction, but he remains criminally underrated in this country. Maybe his latest will change that, it deserves to. The Night Always Comes is Vlautin’s finest work to date, marrying his typical deep empathy for troubled characters with a robust and dynamic plot reminiscent of classic American noir crime fiction.
The book is all about Lynette, a 30-year-old with a troubled past, currently working three jobs, living with her mum and caring for her older brother who has learning difficulties. The book is set in a Portland that is being rapidly gentrified, and Lynette’s plans to scrape together enough cash to buy the house she rents are scuppered when her mum gets cold feet.
Lynette is left trying to claw back money that she’s owed from various less than savoury people, taking her on a long dark night of the soul as she travels across the changing city getting deeper and deeper into trouble. From the opening few pages this is a heart-in-the-mouth read, and Vlautin’s skill at making the reader empathise with his characters is paramount. As things escalate through the night it’s relentless and jaw-dropping stuff, but amid the action the author is careful to keep the reader grounded in the everyday details and emotions of Lynette and the others. All of this is done with a prose style that sings with simple clarity, like an arrow straight at the reader’s heart. Extraordinary stuff.
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin is out now (Faber, £12.99)