Lean On Pete – Willy Vlautin – IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012

Work’s got to go, it’s getting in the way of me updating my blog!!!
I must admit that the 2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist as a whole did not inspire me to rush out next year and buy the lot. However, the winner, “Even The Dogs”, was a standout and if I hadn’t decided to tackle this list I may well have never come across this magnificent book. Of the remaining eight that I read, (I still can’t source a copy of “The Eternal Son” by Cristovão Tezza), three were well worth the effort (“A Visit from the Goon Squad”, “The Matter with Morris” and “The Memory of Love”), two were passable but not standouts ( “Limassol” and “Rocks in the Belly”) and three were not really my cup of tea, even though they had redeeming features.
Onto “Lean on Pete” the final novel I read from the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist this year, this one falls into the “no thanks” bucket. This is a story of a 15 year old single child, Charley, who has no memory of his mother, and who is dragged around the industrial parts of America, living in various trailer parks with his itinerant working father.  Written in the first person by Charley this has the feel of a tale being experienced by a semi-literate confused teenager who is only now discovering his own identity.
When I went to sleep that night I couldn’t stop thinking about the girl skater. I just lay in my bed and thought about how good-looking she was and how at the end she turned out to be nice and then finally around eleven or so I fell asleep. At five o’clock my alarm went off. I lay there for a while, then I heard noises coming from the main room. I got up and looked out the window and saw my dad’s truck and so I got dressed and walked out into the kitchen where he was making bacon and eggs. He was dressed in his work clothes and standing over the stove.
Charley eventually finds work (he has to lie about his age) with a local race horse trainer who, for obvious reasons, doesn’t have any other staff, and through this employment he gains a little independence and meets the badly treated but honest and tough race horse Lean On Pete.
I passed the time by talking to Pete. I told him about football and how my freshman coach sent me up to varsity to practice after our season was over and how they let me go to the varsity banquet as well as the freshman one. I told him about each of my four interceptions and how I made friends with a linebacker named Colin and how he used to invite me over to his house to spend the night.
Tragedy then befalls our protagonist and a road trip with himself and Pete takes place. The novel has numerous interactions with the fringe of Middle America, the borderline peoples, soup kitchens, homelessness, shop lifting and more. The subject matter here is ripe for a novel of painful proportions, a tale with the cheats of the racetrack intermingled with other bit players from the edges of society, but in my mind it just doesn’t quite pull it off. The relentless “I did this and then I did that” style (although certainly authentic) annoyed me and is it skilful writing or is it just plain simple?
A two of five star rating for me as it’s not a book I’d recommend to people. I’m now into the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and have finished the magnificent “From the Mouth of the Whale” from Iceland and when I have another spare evening I’ll post my review here (hopefully soon).

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