Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home; food on the table; a high school he can attend for more than part of a year; and some structure to his life. But as the son of a single father working at warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, he's been pretty much on his own for some time.
Lean on Pete opens as he and his father arrive in Portland, Oregon and Charley takes a stables job, illegally, at the local race track. Once part of a vibrant racing network, Portland Meadows is now seemingly the last haven for washed up jockeys and knackered horses, but it's there that Charley meets Pete, an old horse who becomes his companion as he's forced to try to make his own way in the world.
A portrait of a journey - populated by a vivid cast of characters against a harsh landscape - Lean on Pete is also the unforgettable story of a friendship and of hope in dark times.
A blend of road novel and not-quite hard luck story, the latest from Vlautin (The Motel Life) begins when 15-year-old Charley Thompson and his father move from Spokane, Wash. to Portland, Ore., to give starting over yet another try. When Charley s dad takes up with a married secretary and stops coming home, Charley takes a job with Del Montgomery, a crank based out of the nearby racetrack who, among other things, shoots up a horse with vodka. After Charley s father dies from wounds suffered during a fight with his lover s husband, Charley, whom Vlautin has conveniently given the pastime of running, runs away with Pete, a horse and his only friend. This is where the narrative sours; Charley s trek across the West, occasionally on horseback, is dominated by an unbelievable stretch of luck: men appear to dispense food and money, miraculously uninhabited trailers contain washers and dryers, and his hitchhiking is eerie, but not dangerous. Still, Vlautin s characters, despite their unrealistic arcs, shine with his sparse style. It might be difficult to believe Charley s bottomless cache of silver linings, but it s remarkably easy to root for the kid.