Willy Vlautin - Lean on Pete (3 stars)

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Willy Vlautin - Lean on Pete

(Faber)

To date, Willy Vlautin has written about ordinary American drifters careering from one dead end job to another on lonely roads, escaping something dark from their past and desperately seeking hope in an uncertain future. Lean On Pete offers no respite from that often starkly miserable world which has its roots in the uber-realist writings of John Steinbeck and William Kennedy. It’s with some certainty you will conclude that Vlautin, lead guy with alt-country band Richmond Fontaine, isn’t likely any day now to pen a sci-fi fantasy novel or ghostwrite a footballer’s wife’s memoir. Niche found, he seems happy enough to knock out such fare for years to come.

Charley Thompson is a 15-year-old who desires nothing more than a stable home to live in and a decent school to attend. Having no real memory of his mother, he is saddled with a father, Ray, a restless soul with little intention of settling into anything other than a life of wandering and the dangers inherent in such an existence. With Ray largely absent, Charley gets himself a job at the local racetrack, looking after jaded horses such as the titular Lean on Pete, handed infrequent paychecks by the permanently ill-tempered and possibly perverted boss Del. When incidents at home and work leave Charley exposed and frightened, he sets off on a hazardous road trip towards a potentially more secure life.

Told directly through the eyes of a fairly ordinary 15-year-old boy, Vlautin’s writing is flatter and more pared-down than before and over the course of 270 pages, gets fairly wearing. But he portrays this perilous world with guile and weaves memorable characters into each pit stop Charley takes. And for anyone with a sentimental attachment to beasts of an equine nature, a river of tears awaits.

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