Willy Vlautin – Lean On Pete


Willy Vlautin’s previous 2 novels ‘The Motel Life’ and ‘Northline’ are 2 of my favourite books ever.  His writing style is simple and beautiful. Interestingly, I recently read a piece about Raymond Carver, one of Vlautin’s literary heros, which said that Carver’s early tutor John Gardner taught him the skill of using 15 words instead of 25.  His editor at Esquire magazine Gordon Lish made him go further and instead of using 15 words would make him use only 5, where possible.  This minimalist approach to forming sentences is evident throughout his work and indeed throughout Vlautin’s novels too.  Short chapters, short sentences all add to the instant readability and connection with the books.  They become an addiction.  Difficult to put down, easy to become trapped in.  

Apparently the reason behind Carver’s love for short stories was that they could be written and read in one sitting.  The style of both his and Vlautin’s writing means that their novels are easy to absorb, easy to digest and easy to finish in 3 or so sittings.  This doesn’t mean that the novels themselves are simple of course.  Not at all.  In fact, the intensity and development of many themes, messages and ideas throughout their books is quite incredible, given the simplicity of the structure and language used.  To say so much with so little is testament to the brilliant writers that both these men are.

Lean On Pete is Willy Vlautin’s 3rd novel and like the 2 before explores the vulnerability of the human race.  It explores loss.  It explores loneliness.  And, as always, it explores hope.  Charley is a teenage boy who lives with his dad in a trailer.  He is often left alone for long periods.  He has very little and wants for even less.  Only to make the football team, when school starts, and for the life of a normal boy.  To say he is neglected is an understatement, a fact that leads him to work so that he can afford food when, as is often the case, his dad doesn’t come home or works for days on end.  He takes a job at the nearby racetrack and develops a attachment to a horse named Lean On Pete.  A series of events lead to Charley being thrown into the world alone with only Lean On Pete for company. What follows is a tragic tale of a young boy lost in a world he doesn’t understand.  A boy trying to survive.  A boy trying to find his aunt.  The only person left who can save him from the harsh world in which he exists.

This is a beautiful book.  At times, like Vlautin’s other 2 novels, it’s heartbreakingly sad.  Yet, it always retains a sense of warmth and a sense that hope exists even for those who think that all is hopeless.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough nor indeed the writing of Willy Vlautin in general.  All 3 novels are wonderful reads and I’d encourage you to get your hands on them all asap.  You can find his work here. Buy them.  And Enjoy.


2 thoughts on “Willy Vlautin – Lean On Pete

  1. I’ll have to check this guy out. What you say about his style sounds a bit like Hemmingway. The way he writes is really striking; almost child like sentences, yet not seeming contrived. When I finish one of his books I’m amazed how much he’s conveyed without me even registering at the time.
    Quite the opposite of Fredrick Exley who writes the most fantastically long, punctuated sentences I think I’ve ever come across, which are hard work at times, but well worth the effort.

  2. I will definitely check out your recommendations. And you really must check out Willy Vlautin’s work. He has a seriously lovely way with words. It really amazes me how much these guys can say in such a simple way. The sign of a true story teller.

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