Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin is a story about a boy and a horse. Charley, a 15 year old boy, just moved with his father to Portland, Oregon. Not knowing anyone, he spends the summer alone. When not at work, his father is off drinking or with his girlfriend, leaving Charley alone with no money or food.
Charley’s dreams are simple. He wants a home and enough food on the table; A high school where he can play football. In order to sustain himself he takes a stable job, illegally. It is there that he meets Pete, a troubled horse that his boss an irritable old horse trainer decides to sell it to a Mexican slaughterhouse.
Charley takes off with Pete; he hopes to make his way to Wyoming where his long-lost aunt used to live. In this thousand miles road trip, he encounters an array of different kind of people; few are good, the majority are alcoholics, addicts, outlaws, or just people on the run. It is a dark, miserable and hard world that we don’t usually see or read about. Thanks to Vlautin’s eye for detail and objectivity each character is independent and distinctly described. Only Charley’s character is not clearly defined. He narrates the facts and describes the people, bluntly, objectively. Even when things become so bad that his life is threatened he shows no signs of emotions.
Vlautin’s brilliance is in the style of the narrative. Sadness and misery hangs over the entire book; the characters live their lives day by day; they expect nothing, they have no hope for anything better. But, Vlautin does not criticise, does not analyse. He sees everything trough the eyes of an objective observer, even when Charley’s odyssey comes to an end.
I was hooked from the first page and in anxious anticipation until the last page. It is not a pleasant story but worth reading.
Willy Vlautin is a writer and a musician, He lives in Scappoose, Oregon. Lean on Pete is his third novel, the first I read. An avid fan of horseracing, Vlautin can often be found writing behind a closed circuit monitor at Portland Meadows racetrack.