I received a review copy of this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Willy Vlautin is the lead singer and songwriter with the band Richmond Fontaine and Lean on Pete is his third novel. I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers comparing him to John Steinbeck, though I haven’t read enough of Steinbeck’s work to know whether that’s an accurate comparison.
Charley Thompson is a lonely fifteen year-old boy who lives with his irresponsible single father. The book begins with their arrival in Portland, Oregon, where Charley’s father has been offered a new job in a warehouse. Charley is desperate to get a job of his own so that he can earn enough money to put food on the table but the only work he can find is at the Portland Meadows race track with a disreputable horse trainer called Del. Portland Meadows has seen better days and is now home to hundreds of old, tired horses and second-rate jockeys who can’t get work anywhere else. It is here that Charley meets Lean On Pete, the racehorse who becomes his only friend and companion.
Willy Vlautin uses very simple prose with no flowery descriptions and no big words. As the story is told in the first person from the point of view of fifteen year-old Charley, this writing style is very effective – he uses the kind of language that Charley would realistically use. Despite his miserable home life, Charley comes across as quite a sensible, likeable person, and I really wanted to see him survive and be happy. I did get a bit bored with constantly being told exactly what he had to eat for every meal (usually cheeseburgers, if you’re interested), though I suppose for a teenage boy fending for himself with no money, it was probably quite important!
Almost all of the other characters we meet are drug addicts, alcoholics, or living in poverty, painting a portrait of a side of society we don’t often read about. Most of these people show Charley some kindness, but aren’t really in a position to be able to help him – Charley and Pete are completely alone in the world and there’s a constant atmosphere of sadness and loneliness that hangs over the entire book.
Lean on Pete was a big step away from the type of book I usually read, but I didn’t regret the couple of days it took me to read it.
Genre: General Fiction/Pages: 288/Publisher: Faber & Faber/Year: 2010/Source: Received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers