Mary Lou's Reviews > Lean On Pete

Lean On Pete by Willy Vlautin
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's review
Jul 20, 10

bookshelves: 2010
Read in July, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin is a Modern coming of age story that Vlautin says “comes from my struggle with horseracing, my love for it and my guilt for liking it so much.” He sets it in Portland, Oregon so he can describe a track at the end of its time. Fifteen year-old Charley Thompson lives and moves with his laborer Dad, having never known his mom. The two get by until they move to Portland and Ray Thompson leaves son Charlie alone too often with not enough money for food. Charley finds work at Portland Meadows, helping horse owner Del Montgomery and building a relationship with Del’s horse Lean on Pete. The small, dark quarter horse with a white mark on his face becomes Charley’s confidant, pet, motivator, and Charley’s mission, when the boy learns that Pete has a progressive and incurable condition that causes lameness and will lead to him being slaughtered. When Ray’s current lover beats Ray so badly he has to be hospitalized and he dies, Charley is free to help Pete. He steals the horse and heads east, hoping to get from Portland to his aunt Margy Thompson in Wyoming.

Fellow writer and editor of One Story magazine Hannah Tinti says, “Reading Willy Vlautin is like jumping into a clear, cold lake in the middle of summer. His prose is beautifully spare and clean, but underneath the surface lies an incredible depth, with all kinds of hidden stories and emotions resting in the shadows.” Example that support Tinti’s observation include the character of Del Montgomery and how he represents the addiction and corruption of horse racing, the gardening crew that supports Charley, the evangelist who transports Charley but also makes the boy pay his way, the foster parents who take him in but don’t give him a chance and the kid who frames him for no apparent reason, the outcast women like Laurie who nurture him, and the Nevada rancher who gives him money and offers him a job.

When Santiago invites him to dinner, he takes donuts for the family

Female jockey Bonnie Sparks

Silver beats him up, breaking his ribs

Pete bolts because of noise of motorcycles, is hit by a truck (186/276)


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