Some of the best stories down through the years are those that have featured a kid and their pet or an animal that they’ve built a rapport with, whether it‘s a kangaroo, rough collie, kestrel, whale or a horse. But try to marry that with musicians who’ve taken up the pen in the literary sense, not to write their ramblings of the hedonistic days at the height of their careers, there’s a select few. Josh Ritter recently promoted his first novel, Bright’s Passage at Dublin Writers week. Other famous singers who’ve become authors include, Madonna, Nick Cave and Alice Cooper who, strangely enough, wrote a golfing self- help book.
Last week a journalistic colleague introduced me to another, Willy Vlautin. He’s actually the front man for the country rock band Richmond Fontaine. His third book is Lean on Pete which was shortlisted for the highly acclaimed Dublin IMPAC literary award 2012.
Lean on Pete tells the story of Charley Thompson, a fifteen year old whose lone parent father drags him across the American northwest from one dead beat job to another. After arriving in Portland, Charley comes across a local race course while out running. To feed himself he gets a job from Del Montgomery a struggling alcoholic race horse trainer and his, well past it horse, the titular ‘Lean on Pete’. Del isn’t up for any awards for employer or horse owner of the year and neither is the Charley’s dad in the parenting department for that matter. When his dad dies at the hands of a large Samoan whose wife he’d been fooling around with and Del tries to sell Pete, Charley takes his new best friend and they set off on road trip for pastures new and to try and find Charley’s only remaining relative, his aunt on his dad’s side, whose last known address was Boise, Idaho about four hundred and thirty miles away.
Vlautin’s gritty and realistic descriptions of Charley and Pete’s hand to mouth existence prior to and on the road along with their adventures, which has them at one stage enduring a trek across a desert, had me humming America’s – Horse with No Name. Coupled with the mixed bag of characters they encounter is evidence of why this book made it to the shortlist of IMPAC.
I’m a martyr to my emotions at the best of times and animal movies always set me off. I just about managed to keep things in check while being gripped by this solid page turner. But there was a thin line between the strong-willed book reviewer and a gibbering crumpled heap in the corner.
I haven’t read Vlautin’s other two books, The Motel life and Northline. But after this one, I’ll definitely be reading these and as we enter the summer holiday season and we all head away for our two weeks recharging the vitamin D levels, I’d definitely recommend this book for inclusion in your stable of holiday reads.
As for the musical side of Vlautin’s life, Richmond Fontaine where in Kilkenny for the Roots festival in May and will be back on these shores in November playing a gig at Roisin Dubh in Galway, for more info on their tour dates check the bands website www.richmondfontaine.com .
(First Published www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2012)