Hope is something that Charley seems to manufacture the way bees make honey, but there are times when this sustenance weakens under the impact of an indifferent society. Vlautin writes with an economy which is compelling. After reaching a new town and a new job Charley’s father is murdered by the husband of a new lover.
The boy’s grief sends him wandering before any help can be found or offered and from then on all his energy and intelligence are concentrated on finding his way towards the opportunities he already knows are available.
He knows he should be at school, he knows he can play football, he knows he’s good at running. But his amiably neglectful father never valued any of these things and Charley has spent his young life trying to hold on to the good things, trying to catch up with what he knows he should have. What he does have is a job at a stables teetering on the lowest rung of American racing, and in the stables he finds Lean On Pete, a horse on the lowest rung of viability. And it is with Pete that the boy begins his odyssey from Oregon to Wyoming.
Vlautin is frontman for the band Richmond Fontaine and probably knows as much about life on the road as he does about racing. There is an immediacy of experience to Charley’s adventures, an undertow of authenticity which makes much of this book endearing and heart-breaking.
In the end he is almost, but not quite, weary and wary of a world whose harshness, revealed in clean-cut and confident prose, is its most reliable feature.
Willy Vlautin’s third novel is not only a remarkable book, it is also a beautiful one.