Thursday, May 10, 2018

Lean on Pete - Willy Vlautin

I'm always a sucker for books and movies that champion the underdog, the overlooked, the hard luckers and the downtrodden. Willy Vlautin'snovel, Lean on Pete, is all that. It's recently been made into a movie.

Charley is fifteen years old and lives with his single father, often fending for himself. But tragedy strikes after they move to Portland, leaving Charley on his own. Determined not to be put into 'the system', Charley sets out to find a job and earn enough money to travel, looking for the only relative he has left in the world. He finds a job at the local racetrack, ending up in the employ of a crusty, somewhat shifty, old man named Del. Del is the owner of a number of failing racehorses, including one named Lean on Pete.

Charley bonds with Pete, pouring out his hopes, dreams, desires and fears to the horse. The horse becomes the boy's family. Loneliness populates Vlautin's book. The main characters are all wounded and isolated, as are many of the others we meet. Marginalized in so many ways. And yet, Charley's life and circumstances are not that far from the truth for many teens. I became quite worried as the book progressed and Charley is faced with many unsavory people and situations. I did feel that there were a few too many of these scenes (especially as Charley hit the road) and some seemed simply gratuitous and didn't add much to the overall narrative. Charley's voice is spare, matching his daily life - simply trying to survive. The reader can't help

Knowing nothing of the racing world, I found some of the racetrack practices and treatment of the horses quite disturbing.

I chose to listen to Lean on Pete and was excited to find that the author himself was the narrator. There's nothing better than listening to an author read his own work. Vlautin is also the lead singer of a band. He has a wonderfully resonant voice, with a slight gravelly undertone. His voice never raises, but keeps the listener closely drawn in to this haunting, harrowing tale. Listen to an excerpt of Lean on Pete.

Did I like it? Yeah, I really did. Vlautin's work has a touch of Steinbeck and Twain to it. Now, we'll have to see if the movie does it justice.


bermudaonion said...

I read another book about racing and know what you mean about the practices being disturbing. This sounds like a winner.

Luanne said...

It's a good listen Bermudaonion, but yes the behind the scenes stuff was disturbing.