If anybody ever asks me about the power of a book-jacket then I'll tell 'em this: it works with me . . . and I mean Big Style.
I was in the the wonderful Hockney Galleries at Salt's Mill in Saltaire (and if you're ever stumped about where to spend a long weekend or even a whole damn week, then this is the place for you . . . and I mean that), checking out the bookroom, and I came away with seven titles, most of which I knew diddly about. The thing was, I fell in love with the covers . . . and I want to tell you about one in particular: Northline, by Willy Vlautin.

The cover has puffs from the Daily Telegraph ("full of compassion"), the Independent on Sunday ("the Dylan of the dislocated") and even George Pelecanos ("the American novel I have been hoping to find") so you can be fairly sure you're on safe ground. Well, it turns out you're on exceptionally safe ground for no sooner did I get the book home than I discovered Vlautin is the lead singer in Richmond Fontaine, whose albums The Fitzgerald and Thirteen Cities have frequently graced the various systems at PS Towers. (Indeed, Thirteen Cities is playing as I write this . . . and exceptionally fine it is, too.)

The first thing that hits you--both in the book and the music--is the dialogue/imagery. Gee whiz, it crackles like a downed electricity cable with its live end in a puddle . . . all Carver and Steinbeck, Elmore Leonard and Philip Dick (those three or four mainstream books he wrote--absolutely stunning stuff), and . . . well, there are lots more, all the way back to the music connection of Richmond Fontaine and Vlautin's songsmith predecessor, Mark Eitzel.

It's the underbelly of America done better than anyone else has captured it . . . it's a movie scripted by Sam Shepard and Richard Ford, directed by David Lynch, starring a young Harry Dean Stanton with a soundtrack from Ry Cooder and American Music Club. Remarkable.