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

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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: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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

A very sad story, but captivating as well.
K. Mayo Sorensen
AsI have had time to reflect, this is a good book on tenacity, the desire to survive, and the search for love and acceptance.
Paula's Kindle
I remember reading that book years ago and with each page thinking gosh, I hope something good finally happens.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 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 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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3 of 3 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By grumpydan 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 JJCL on January 4, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This reminds me of "Grapes of Wrath". A gritty realistic subject that could easily reflect real life. The point of view from a child who basically has no one to rely on but is able to exist on the edges of society is an eye opener. Some of the scenes are all too real and believable. The race horse business is also portrayed in a light that is probably closer to the truth than a book like Sea Biscuit from the standpoint of animal treatment. I was entertained. It held my interest. Not my favorite simply because I prefer sweetness and light to realism when I read for entertainment. I did like the ending. It fits the way I like books to end. I would recommend it to anyone who reads a lot for escape from their own reality and needs a thought provoking read.
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Format: Paperback
Willy Vlautin’s style is calm and clear-eyed. Zero flash. The prose is dry-eyed.

The opening lines: “When I woke up that morning it was still pretty early. Summer had just begun and form where I lay in my sleeping bag I could see out the window. There were hardly any clouds and the sky was clear and blue.”

The narrator is fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson. He has just moved to Portland from Spokane with his father. They are starting over. Or trying. They are in a rundown house next to a trailer park. There are promises of getting a barbecue and a dog, but his father starts getting tangled up with the secretary in the front office where he works as fork lift driver. Soon, Charley has no food and no money and his father isn’t coming home. Charley dreams of playing football for the new high school. His speed as a runner helps when it comes time to steal cans of soup from the grocery store.

“Lean on Pete” is the name of a horse at the Portland Meadows racetrack. He’s owned by a 70-year-old guy named Del. “He smelled like beer and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. He had a big gut and was going bald. The hair he did have was mostly gray on the sides and he had it greased back. His right arm was in a cast and he was chewing tobacco.” Del has a flat tire but, with only one arm, needs help.

Soon Charley is in the thick in the world of horses and racing—but Del’s world is down and dirty. Del doesn’t give Charley all that he deserves or what he has worked for, but Charley keeps hoping. Del lives on the edge. Life and luck are day-to-day. Drinking never stops. Charley tries hard to find the gears that will kick his life into a smooth ride, but it’s all a grind.
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