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on 2 May 2017
Condition of book just as advertised.
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Willy Vlautin seems to love to cause his characters as much grief as he can - in 'The Motel Life' they stumble from one bad break to another, on an ever-dwindling supply of cash and fuel, and in 'Lean on Pete' the narrator, Charley Thompson, has similar misfortunes happen to him too. It seems to be a developing trademark of Willy's...

Charley is a 15 year-old kid who wants a bit of stability in his life - he's not a rebel, a drinker or a drop-out, he's just someone who has no mother and an extremely unreliable father who leaves him alone for days at a time to party. In fact, he's a sensible, sensitive person who adapts to misfortune with stoic non-judgement. He just gets on with things.

The writing is in the first person, and is very lean - every word deserves to be there. Vlautin writes with a stark matter-of-fact style that brings the innocence of Charley Thonpson to the fore - it's a very believable voice that gets you rooting for him right from the start.

In many ways, Vlautin seems to be taking on the mantle left by Charles Bukowski, John Fante and John Updike - he's describing the world of the outsider, USA style. Charley forms an emotional bond with a mistreated racehorse (the eponymous 'Lean on Pete'), and he seems to subconsciously sympathise with the animal because they both have had unlucky breaks, although this is never expressly written.

Lean on Pete is generous in spirit, gently-written in that the characters are allowed to speak for themselves, and always honest. It really reminded me how nice it to have some food after a couple of days of going without. If you like to root for the underdog, then this is for you.
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VINE VOICEon 15 March 2010
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 time it took me to read it.
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on 29 September 2011
This third novel consolidates Vlautin's skill and significance as a contemporary writer and it also continues the stylistic American tradition of simple storytelling in terms of naturalistic dialogue and straightforward expression. The honest and believable first person narrative of 15 year old Charley Thompson provides the perfect vehicle for such simplicity, but of course whatever the techniques and personas and situations used, the depth of feeling and meaning is conveyed with an immediacy and emotive impact that is compelling.

Charley's story is similar in many respects to the themes and contexts of Vlautin's previous two novels: journey as escape and self-discovery; hardship [against the self, both physical and mental, but especially loss and death], and the kindnesses, indifferences and nastiness of humanity.

It isn't a significant difference, but I don't feel this story is either as bleak or as hopeful - Vlautin's potent novelistic paradox - as its predecessors. That isn't to say it is neutral. Charley's hardships are many and continue to come at him, but apart from two specific moments of violence he copes well [for his age] and we as readers are not made to dwell on these as Charley continues to move forward and beyond these quickly - though not in the physical reality of his trek across significant distances. Nor is it as thematically hopeful in as much as although Charley encounters many examples of kindness and support I don't feel the book ends with such a certain affirmation of this - though the reader is allowed to decide/imagine for themself.

The novel is rich in its ensemble of characters with more variety and range than in the previous two books. Charley is, as I've said, totally believable and he is also hugely likable in his vulnerability, work ethic, survival instinct and youthful exuberance.

Horses and horseracing are an interesting contextual reality for much of the story and Vlautin has clearly used his interest in and knowledge of this to provide yet more credible and engaging settings for the book. There is also a brilliant pattern of experiences - many shown quickly or even just recalled by Charley in reminiscences with others - which seem to tumble out of Vlautin's own actual experiences. That or it is just more from his rich and vivid imagination. It's a wonderfully 'easy' read and in many ways for me as rewarding from that simple experience as much as the heartfelt tale.
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on 23 September 2017
Wow! This is a good book. Similar in style to writers such as Daniel Woodrell and Breece Pancake. However, unlike those wonderful authors, he writes about goodness. The setting is white trash USA. The characters are often base human beings. Bad things do happen to good people. But there is also courage and kindness and hope. Have now bought all his books to read and looking forward to the movie
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on 22 April 2010
The same direct honest style that we've come to expect and a riveting storyline that despite my determination not to - made me cry in places ( for all the right reasons.)
The wrting is so vivid and straightforward that I can fully visualise all the characters and the environments and landscapes they inhabit.
Give it a go and check out his earlier two books too.
I;ve read them all a couple of times now - back to the albums until his next one then...
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on 19 October 2013
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. Of the horses, it's Lean On Pete who captures Charley's affections and it's not long before Charley and Pete take off on a trip across country to Wyoming where there might at last be a haven for them.
I really don't want to give away anything about the story in the hope that you'll go and find out for yourself. I think you'll thoroughly enjoy it, whoever you are.
Rolled up in this adventure are many scenes that would work as self-contained pieces. When put together, there's a real sense of movement and hugely conflicting measures of hope and despair; it's that ever-tipping balance between these two that offers the story its energy and had me completely captured as a reader. Like that quote in the beginning suggests, there's good and bad in everyone and there's enough of the latter to keep the species going. People react to Charley and his situation in many ways. There are the randomly generous, the needy, those who switch from generosity to bitterness without warning, the slippery and the aggressive. All of them are human and many of them are living in situations that all-too-often the media and those in power either have forgotten about or are busily sweeping under the carpet.
Charley is no exception to the rule of good and bad. He's a survivor, whether he knows it or not. He's learned enough from his father and from his time surviving alone to get by. In order to do so, he has to turn to crime and violence. One of the things I loved about the piece is how much I excused all of these acts in Charley because of his needs, whether to eat or to defend himself. That shows the power of the writing for me. There's also one moment when he's acting purely out of pride and from anger and I know that if I'd been in his position I'd have done the same, so I was still on side even then. In fact, the blur between good and bad goes far enough to remind that these are relative terms in themselves and will be defined differently by every nation, culture and individual (and that's impressive in a book).
Half way through, I started to worry for the ending. I was hoping all the way that everything would finish with a scent of roses and Charley and Lean On Pete would live forever on the Big Rock Candy Mountain. That tore me. Much as I wanted it to be so, I couldn't bear the idea that such an epic book might turn out to be a mushy fairy story. The hard edges of life and of Charley's existence, even though they'd been handled with subtlety and dexterity, couldn't allow for such a shiny finish. Thankfully, and it can't have been an easy job, Vlautin's denouement is superb, capturing something of the bitter sweet conflict of the whole book.
I also had a wonderful occurrence with this story that doesn't happen often. I'd be walking in the countryside or washing or cooking and I'd catch myself wondering how Pete and Charley were doing. I'd picture them on the road, getting by and enjoy the moments of their safety while worrying for them all the while.
To summarise, I loved the book and am extremely grateful to the friend who recommended it for doing so. It has a real power and a stunning sense of reality that makes me want to be more observant and more generous in the world.
I've also bought the previous 2 novels by Vlautin and I'll be picking up the next as soon as it's out early next year.
Tremendous.
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on 25 November 2011
Willy Vlautin goes from strength to strength with this,his third novel.New readers are advised to begin with 'The Motel Life' and 'Northline' before reading 'Lean On Pete';if you've read the two earlier books you'll know what to expect and won't be disappointed.

Mr Vlautin has long produced touching vignettes of American life in his other capacity as songwriter,lead singer and guitarist with the exceptional band Richmond Fontaine,and has now begun to hit his stride in transferring his talents to the literary world.

I won't reveal anything of the story,but it is as involving and emotionally honest as Vlautin's previous work in both his fields of expertise.Followers of his musical output,however, may find similarities between this and the song 'Laramie,Wyoming' from the 2005 album 'The Fitzgerald'.
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on 2 March 2010
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. Lean on Pete is not a pleasant story but certainly worth reading.
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This book tells the story of Charlie, a 15 year-old boy. He lives with his father, a warehouse worker who spends more time with women than with his son, and as he is left alone for days on end he is forced to fend for himself, shoplifting for food, and trying to earn a small income by helping out at the race track. Here Charlie meets an old horseman, and Lean On Pete, one of his horses, and a strange friendship develops. As the book progresses, and tragic events change the course of his life forever, Charlie sets out on a personal journey where he meets a number of strange characters, some of whom offer kindness, others bringing suffering, and he crosses a corner of America trying to find happiness and stability.

It sounds incredibly bleak, but it isn't. Willy Vlautin's writing is superb from start to finish, a wonderfully lean style where he focuses on dialogue and doesn't spend paragraph after paragraph describing clothing or scenery when a few words will do. It's entirely believable, and although it doesn't really offer anything new to the genre, it is well told and hugely readable, and ultimately uplifting.

For me, "Northline" is still his best, but this is on a par with "The Motel Life". My second favourite book of 2010 so far (after Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes).
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