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Lean on Pete: A Novel Paperback – April 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A blend of road novel and not-quite hard luck story, the latest from Vlautin (The Motel Life) begins when 15-year-old Charley Thompson and his father move from Spokane, Wash. to Portland, Ore., to give starting over yet another try. When Charley's dad takes up with a married secretary and stops coming home, Charley takes a job with Del Montgomery, a crank based out of the nearby racetrack who, among other things, shoots up a horse with vodka. After Charley's father dies from wounds suffered during a fight with his lover's husband, Charley, whom Vlautin has conveniently given the pastime of running, runs away with Pete, a horse and his only friend. This is where the narrative sours; Charley's trek across the West, occasionally on horseback, is dominated by an unbelievable stretch of luck: men appear to dispense food and money, miraculously uninhabited trailers contain washers and dryers, and his hitchhiking is eerie, but not dangerous. Still, Vlautin's characters, despite their unrealistic arcs, shine with his sparse style. It might be difficult to believe Charley's bottomless cache of silver linings, but it's remarkably easy to root for the kid. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* With his first two novels—The Motel Life (2007) and Northline (2008)—Vlautin established himself as a poet of the lower classes, his spare, knifelike prose slicing deep into the vulnerable hearts of his struggling, lonely characters. The first two books were set around Reno, but this time he moves north, into the Pacific Northwest, where he attempts something just this side of oxymoronic: an utterly unsentimental story about a boy and a horse. Charley Thompson is a 15-year-old boy who dreams of a normal home and the chance to play high-school football. Newly arrived in Portland with a mostly absent father, Charley hopes for the best and gets the worst. Suddenly homeless, he hangs out on the backstretch at Portland Meadows racetrack and finds a friend—an aging Thoroughbred named Lean on Pete. That’s exactly what Charley does, at least for a while, until Pete, bound for the slaughterhouse, needs to lean on Charley. The perilous journey on which Charley and Pete embark must end badly—think of Kirk Douglas and another loyal horse on the run from civilization in Lonely Are the Brave—but on the road Charley tells Pete the story of his life, and in this young boy’s flatly descriptive but heartbreaking words, reprising a lifetime of barely getting by (“All he had was Banquet frozen dinners and they’re the worst; well, the Salisbury steak’s alright, but there was only one of those”), Vlautin transforms what might have been a weepy, unbelievable TV-movie of a novel into a tough-and-tender account of a boy, a big-hearted horse, and a mostly unforgiving world. What Daniel Woodrell does for the hardscrabble Ozarks, Vlautin does for the underside of the New West. Unforgettable. --Bill Ott
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061456535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061456534
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Willy Vlautin is the author of four novels: The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete, which won two Oregon Book Awards, and The Free. He is the singer and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine and lives in Scappoose, Oregon.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Guy Haynes on February 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm a big fan of Willy's work with Richmond Fontaine and I enjoy gritty American fiction (Bukowski, Fante, Carver, Donald Ray Pollock, etc) so I've been working through his novels. This, his latest, is the best and you get the feeling Vlautin is really starting to relax into his writing now. There is a beautiful simplicity at work here, a lot of the story comes down to straightforward accounts of daily survival but the level of detail and inventiveness shines through, enlivening what could be seen as mundane subject matter. There are some great characters, particularly the hugely unsympathetic horse trainer and a dangerous and mentally disturbed tramp who becomes the embodiment of violent threat.

Reading this is by turns a humbling, heartbreaking and harrowing experience. Excellent.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By nigel p bird on October 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
There are books that I can't really fully explain in terms of why they were so enjoyable or had such an impact. `Lean On Pete' is one of them. I'm going to try and unpick that for myself in this here in this review.
The work seems really simple in the structure as a whole and in the clean style of writing, yet the impact it had on me was far more powerful than this simplicity might normally allow.
Before the novel begins, there's a quote from John Steinbeck:
`It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.'
I mention this because it has been perfectly selected for a book that reflects something of that tone all the way through.
Charley Thompson has grown up in a single-parent family with his father at the helm. His father, a loving and kind one in many ways, is unreliable, unpredictable and liable to leave Charlie for days on end to fend for himself. This leaves Charley with the TV and the movie screen for company, cans of food to eat and a desire to run and keep fit so that he can keep alive his hopes of playing football. Football seems to allow Charley to feel part of something bigger than himself. To provide him with a family that works together. It's important.
This immediately resonates and creates emotional waves. A human adults need sex, shelter and food to exist and surely human children need food, shelter, companionship and nurturing to survive; because Charley has been stripped of some of these, it's impossible not to feel for him from the outset.
As he moves through the days, he stumbles into a job at the track working for a shady trainer and his horses.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Violet on June 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
It took me a few pages to get used to Vlautin's writing style, but once I did, I was hooked. Although it is not always easy to read about the things that Charley encounters on his journey, there is still this amazing spark of hope throughout the book. This kid is a survivor and his resilience inspired me greatly. Although this is fiction, I know that there are a lot of real children that could be Charley.

This is my first book by Vlautin, but I plan to check out his others now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on May 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
At first, I didn't know what to think of Lean On Pete by Willy Vlautin. I was reading through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson and it felt like a fifteen year-old was writing it. But when the story started rolling and we get to see what Charlie is going through as he become lost in the world he is living with his father, then alone and trying to find his aunt. All he wants is to be loved and cared for. He wants a family and a chance to play football. He struggles helplessly as he travels through various states to locate his aunt, hungry and alone. This story, although depressing, is heart wrenching and enjoyable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pamela A. Poddany VINE VOICE on October 20, 2015
Format: Paperback

Have a box of tissues ready for yourself while you read this one. Willy Vlautin knows people and knows how to hit you hard in your heart and your head. He is such a wonderful writer, touching on every emotion known to mankind and writing a book that is tough, hard, gritty, true to life, down to earth. I am this man's number one fan. Seriously.

We meet Charley Thompson, fifteen, who lives with his dad in Portland. Charley is a good kid. All he wants is a family to love and to love him, food on the table, go to high school, and play football. He wants a 'normal' life. While Charley and his dad love each other, Charley is pretty much on his own. His dad just doesn't stick around or know how to parent. After a horrible incident takes place, Charley is forced to run and leave his home. He ends up finding a place to hide and live; a horse track not too far from where he was living. There he meets up with Del who works at the track running horses. Charley meets and falls in love with Del's horse, Lean on Pete. So did I.

Mishap after mishap occurs, and Charley is still on his own, stealing food, living and sleeping in dumpsters, but still works at the horse track. Charley and Del form an uneasy and unreliable friendship and Charley learns much about horses and the track. He runs into all sorts of seedy characters, meets some wonderful horses, and if it weren't for bad luck, Charley would have no luck at all.

Things happen and Charley is again on the run. He constantly ends up in the worst of neighborhoods and situations, depending on the kindness of strangers and relying on his wits and street smarts. Charley's main goal is to find his aunt who lives thousands of miles away in Wyoming. His trip is a tough one.
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